I got into gun culture, personally and professionally, not long before Sandy Hook. Hence, not long before Wayne LaPierre’s post-Sandy Hook sound bite, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” (all italics in the original text).
Ignoring the appropriately criticized “only,” I have often wondered how to distinguish the good guys with guns from the bad guys with guns. How do we know if we are dealing with genuinely good people as opposed to people who come “in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves”?
The gun-critical Twitter-er @Well_Regulated_ routinely posts stories about legal gun owners acting badly with their guns – wolves in sheep’s clothing.
But is there something inherent in a person that makes them a good guy or a bad guy? One ancient wisdom says yes. “[E]very good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.”
And yet the challenge remains. How do you know whether you have a good or bad tree according to this wisdom? “You will know them by their fruits.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to armed self-defense, the bad fruit borne by bad trees are dead human beings. Jordan Davis (murdered by Michael Dunn at a Jacksonville gas station), Haile Kifer and Nick Brady (murdered by Byron David Smith in Minnesota), Renisha McBridge (murdered by Theodore Wafer in Detroit), Diren Dede (murdered by Markus Kaarma in Missoula, Montana).
Possibly added to this list will be the recent case in Abilene, Texas, spoofed by TactiCoolMemes on Instagram, and more seriously analyzed in a two-part series by The Tactical Professor, Claude Werner (here and here).
To be sure, “data” is not the plural of anecdote. In any given year in America, 99.965% of guns and 99.788% of gun-owning households have nothing to do with homicides, suicides, or non-fatal firearms injuries. Legal gun owners are more often citizen-protectors than citizen-vigilantes.
At the same time, those on the receiving end of these good guys with guns who turned out to be bad guys with guns are people, not merely statistics. So it is worth asking whether anything can be done to identify the bad trees among legal gun owners in advance. And worth considering whether some good trees can end up bearing bad fruit under the right circumstances.