Now, I doubt very few people outside the Birmingham area paid much attention to this, but a series of events occurred Monday that kind of stuck a pin in both of those balloons, particularly the second one. That morning, an armed robber walked into a Wachovia branch in Bessemer, a suburb directly west of Birmingham, and killed two tellers and wounded a third before trying to walk out of the bank with cash and a hostage. The thing is, there was a customer in the bank with a handgun, and yesterday the Birmingham News wrote a whole big long story about him. Here's what the "good Samaritan" did when the bullets started flying:
Amid the rampage, Chappell and at least one other customer fled the bank.
Chappell was carrying his own gun, for which he has a concealed weapon permit. He took cover by his sport utility vehicle just outside the front doors, drew his weapon and waited.
Now, it probably sounds like I'm trying to call this guy out for being a coward, which is not my intent at all. This guy reacted in a way that isn't any different from the way you or I might, and that's the whole point. He may have had any number of reasons for not shooting the robber when he had the chance -- maybe he was worried that if he didn't kill the robber with the first shot, he'd only have drawn attention to himself and put himself in the line of fire. Maybe he simply came to the realization that putting a bullet in a human being, even a despicable one, is a lot harder than putting one in a target. But for whatever reason, the presence of a legal firearm in the bank didn't end up changing very much about the incident.
I'm not using this as an opportunity to call for more gun control; in the case of the Virginia Tech rampage, for instance, I can't think of any additional gun restrictions that might've prevented it. But the near-immediate response from the right after that incident was that more guns on campus or in the classroom building might've stopped the shooter, and stuff like this Bessemer robbery proves that that ain't automatically so.
Not to mention it makes the macho muscle-flexin' hordes of right-wingers, those who were falling all over each other last month to be the first to condemn the Virginia Tech student body for being soft, look even dumber than they already did. Remember National Review's John Derbyshire and his laughable claim that he'd "at least take a run at the guy"? Just to recap, in Derbyshire's hypothetical, Derb himself is unarmed and the shooter has two guns. But in the Bessemer robbery, the customer had a gun, the robber had just one gun, and the pistol-packing customer still didn't fire off a single shot when he had the chance.
I think the pro-gun folks out there need to take a closer look at a critical part of their "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" slogan -- the "people kill people" part. Yes, guns don't pull triggers themselves, people do -- flawed, human people, people who may not be inclined to take a life, or even injure somebody, even when they have every justification for doing so. A lot of gun proponents out there seem to have this idea that gun ownership makes you this special breed of human being, someone with a higher level of steely-eyed courage who is undaunted from taking out anyone who threatens his life or the life of someone he loves. But it doesn't: All it does is make you a flawed human being who just happens to have a gun. As someone who's fired numerous types of guns, I can tell you that just popping off a round at a target is a lot harder than it looks, to say nothing of a human being, and if you're not the type of person who can potentially take another person's life without a gun, merely having a gun isn't going to suddenly make you one. Just something to remember the next time someone suggests that more average Joes and Josephines walking around with firearms is the solution to all our crime problems.
ADDED: Fixed link to the Birmingham News story.