You’re Only a Good Guy With a Gun Until You’re Not

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.

Source:, 25 September 2018

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).

Source:, 22 September 2018.


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.


  1. Universal thorough background checks on ALL gun sales and transfers. No lifetime durations, renewal background checks every five years, same as concealed carry in NC. Penalties for folks not found to have ever gotten a background check. Universal “red flag” laws. Lots of ways.


    • Reviewing a permit holder every n years where n can be five, two, or whatever, is not hard. Its just a matter of cross-checking the permit against state and Federal court records. If they get a hit, they can revoke the permit. It doesn’t require the deliberately harassing bullstuff that some states require.

      In New Mexico we used to have to resubmit fingerprints with every 4 yr CHL renewal. Someone finally figured out that research shows that fingerprints are good for a long time. Decades. So that was, thankfully, rescinded. But I wouldn’t put it past the Dems to try to reinstate it. Just because they can.

      I do agree with the biennial New Mexico CHL re-qualification. I don’t think it makes sense to give out a CHL that allows a person to carry in the public space and not ensure people remember which is the muzzle and which is the breech, can demonstrate they can hit a 12×18 inch target at 3 and 7 yards 72% of the time, and re-emphasize state law.


      • The interesting dichotomy here in NM is that, while we require 15 hour classes and practical demonstration of shooting with the calibers and type of firearm we have on our Concealed Handgun Licenses, this is an open-carry state, with that protected by the State Constitution.

        So, it is possible for a person to go to a gun show, see a firearm they like after trying out many for fit and balance and the like, make the purchase – with a NICS BG check in most cases – buy some ammo, a holster and take his purchases to his car, put the holster on his belt, load the firearm, holster it and be perfectly legal and good to go almost anywhere they can do so legally. And that is most places in the state, inncluding the state capitol, the Roundhouse and most government buildings, parks and the like.

        While I am a proponent for getting as much training as you can get and to continue that training throughout the time you carry a firearm, I also support Constitutional Carry as the only true manner to exercise our 2nd Amendment right. And I have the argument about that in the mirror on a regular basis.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the notion that we can divide people (gun owners or not) into clear good guys and bad guys is childishly simplistic, and I suspect an awful lot of the bad guys who kill people with guns very much fancied themselves the good guys when they bought them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, there may be some. I would say that the two idiots in the article saw themselves as good guys, but this is an outlier in the larger scheme of shooting situations. Most shootings are done by criminals with other criminals as their victims. Some may, in their little fantasy movie in which they star, see themselves as the good guy, but society wouldn’t agree.


  3. That’s certainly the question. Well put in Matthew 7:18 (or Luke 6:43). Unfortunately, we don’t have JC’s intuition on these things.

    I have no problem with prior vetting (given my job, maybe I am just used to a constant diet of it) as long as I trust that the process is fair, that the onus is on the government to justify a denial rather than on the individual to bear the costly burden of proof, and the system is not political. The many years I had access to weapons far more deadly than a rifle resulted in me getting used to a pretty fair process. NM’s CHL process is pretty good and “shall issue”. By contrast, most of what I see (NJ, CA, etc) is overtly political, designed by hoplophobes to disarm the public.

    Given the basis of the 2A is overtly paramilitary, one would hope that we wouldn’t want to arm citizens who would be more a threat to each other than to a foe. Pulling guns over a junked mattress seems excessive. I would not have goaded the father/son pair into shooting me but that is a different issue, best left to a jury. But in the big picture view, we need solutions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • One thing I notice is that many of these cases (Abilene, Missoula, Detroit, Minnesota) take place at home rather than out “in public” (though the Michael Dunn case was in public, and the ex-cop who shot the guy over talking in the movie theater, and the driver in Minnesota who shot someone over a fender bender). Certainly having a gun at home does not subject you to the same level of scrutiny as places that require permits to carry in public, and so maybe that makes a difference.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. “Ye shall know them by their fruits” is I think informative even before the fact. I would suggest that, like most “bad guys with guns,” most of the few “good guys with guns” who go bad will usually have previous behavior that, with 20/20 hindsight, should have been a warning. Though that rather ‘useless in practice’ fact applies to every person. The consequences of missing the signs are more severe when the person is in an actual position of trust or power; medicine, law enforcement, etc, than simply an otherwise legally armed person, but I’m not sure there’s any realistic way to weave a net to catch any of them prior. Not without setting the default at absolute restriction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree this is a big challenge. We can’t just assume someone who legally owns a gun, or even someone who has been legally vetted for a concealed carry permit, is a “good guy” once and for all. (Or vice-versa.)


  5. I’d like to take issue with your statement “Legal gun owners are more often citizen-protectors than citizen-vigilantes.”

    Vigilantes ARE citizen-protectors. The term has gotten bad press, and therefore a bad connotation in modern times, but means ‘one who is vigilant’. Indeed, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a vigilante as:

    vigilante noun
    vig·i·lan·te | \ ˌvi-jə-ˈlan-tē \
    : a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate)
    broadly : a self-appointed doer of justice

    These were often people who found it necessary to enforce law because there was no official to do so, or the official was corrupt or just not doing their job. Certainly those that take become vigilantes when there are officials who will enforce the law available are being lawless themselves. That said, we are more and more often finding, even today (or should I say especially today…) that our system and law enforcement – all the way up to congress – is letting us down, and not doing what we pay them to do.

    Vigilanteism is not always a bad thing done by bad people, and when we step in to protect someone who needs immediate protection when the officials are not there we are being good vigilantes. The good guy with a gun is, indeed, a vigilante, just not the bad kind. Stay vigilant!


  6. This incident is almost a text-bok case of how *not* to handle a potential confrontation. Most of us would have walked away early on, perhaps called the cops or a code-enforcement agency over the use of the dumpster.

    I think that the son and fiancee were at least as responsible for the escallation of this incident into a fatal shooting as the principles. I can’t tell you the number of times, from grade school on into my career in LE, that second parties have egged the principals on for their own reasons, including enjoyment.

    In our NM CHL classes, we stress avoidance. Walk away if you can, or run. Don’t let small arguments become a shooting situation. One of my friends has said that since he began carrying every day, his fuse has become longer and harder to light. Since I was specifically trained to defuse and de-escalate situations as a LEO, I am building on solid ground as a civilian gun carrier. I avoid situations where I, as an armed, licensed (and insured) individual, might encounter trouble. I won’t be prevented from going places where I *need* to be, but if I don’t need to be there, I’m not.

    This incident and the near-total video ocverage of it should serve as a cautionary take intended to discourage this sort of thing. I hope it does just that, but I have my doubts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The unarmed guy seemed to want to egg the armed guy on in that video rather than lose face. The armed guy could have, at any point, backed off but he too was ego driven and stupidly empowered by his sidearm. They both seemed to want to get the last word. Sadly, for one of them, it was his last words. Senseless shooting. I imagine the armed guy could say the other guy was within the seven yard radius, but why in God’s name create an armed confrontation over a dead mattress???

      I’m pretty sure I told this story before here (sorry, David and readers) but its worth retelling. I was on a hunting trip with my kid brother-in-law in Upstate New York one fall a long time ago, hunting near my wife’s family home near Elmira, NY. Being barely a year out of undergrad I had the jalopy (rustbucket Ford Mustang with a glasspack muffler) and my wife was coming down the following day in our new car. Shortly after loudly passing a farmer’s house on a dirt road, I was cut off and run into the ditch by a big guy in a white pickup. He got outa the car and started berating me and acting menacing, saying I was going too fast and driving too loudly. I was packing a sidearm. My brother in law had two shotguns (his and mine) in the car.

      Rather than risk a confrontation escalating into a shooting or a beating or both, I made a picnic of it and ate crow, apologizing for any appearance of impropriety on my part and telling him I would never want to hurt his family. I also unzipped my hunting jacket. He may have seen my sidearm. But the important point was to defuse the situation. He told me what an ass I was and drove off.

      Next day I borrowed some money from my father in law and got a proper muffler on the car. Gunfire is the last resort. The brain is the best defensive weapon on the planet.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely alot to be learned from it on “what not to do.” Far more gun owners do right than wrong. These guys seem like bad trees bearing bad fruit, but there are plenty of cases of good trees getting into situations where they bear bad fruit, too.


  7. “So it is worth asking whether anything be done to identify the bad trees among legal gun owners in advance.” Respectfully, it is not, because the question posed is unanswerable. The miserable track record of the “professions” of psychiatry and psychology attest to that. More government intervention in gun sales and/or carry permits would do nothing. Each of the incidents you mention are subject to individual analysis, and the facts and motivations, etc., overlap very little actually. Stupid and bad behavior are limitless in their iteration.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing these thoughts (and highlighting a grammatical error on my part). There is an element here of trying to find generalizable patterns or collective marks on what are fairly rare events, which may not be possible. But because the consequences of these incidents are so high, I can’t help but think about them and wonder what, if anything, can be done. Perhaps given that we are human, all too human, the answer is indeed nothing (in advance).


    • I will share an experience I had while in my last years in LE. Part of my job as a clinic resource officer and member of the city psychiatric liaison team was to do criminal threat assessments of new clients in the system. I did a through check of their criminal histories. On this particular individual, there was no history of violence, just some petty property crimes, mostly misdemeanors. His therapist, a veteran in the field, did an initial assessment, as well, and found no clinical indicators of potential problems and scheduled follow-up visits to the clinic.

      Before his next appointment, we were made aware by dispatch that the individual had had some sort of break, taken a machette and killed one and wounded others in the SRO in the Tenderloin where he was staying. He then fled on foot, making his way to Dolores Park, where he attacked and seriously injured another individual before being taken down, fatally, by responding officers.

      His therapist was ready to leave the professions, so distraught was she at missing the possibility of this act. We both wondered what we had missed. The truth was, we had missed nothing. The individual was on the verge of a pyschotic break which did not manifest until it happened.

      In the profession, past actions predict future actions in most cases. Except when they don’t. Yes, there are times when signs are missed, but there are also cases where signs are just not there. Not in time.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. […] In my last post, I thought about the distinction between good guys with gun and bad guys with guns, and whether we can make that distinction only after someone has acted good or bad with a gun (“By their fruits ye shall know them”). The most recent incident spurring these thoughts is the mattress-in-dumpster shooting caught on video in Abilene, Texas. But there are others, of course, often involving #FloridaMan. […]


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