What the Devil won't tell you
Another good guy with gun takes others with him
Of course murder could happen in upscale mall — it's the deal we make
I don't expect the weekend's La Encantada murder-suicide to score a blow for gun control and I'm not trying to jump start a debate.
But it's time to bury the bumper-sticker slogan and Internet meme declaring that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Pima County Sheriff's deputies confirmed the Friday-night shooter was Fred Bair, a captain with the Tucson Fire Department. According to investigators, he barged in on his ex-wife Mary Jo Bair, who was out with a male companion at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill. Her date, Eliot Cobb, didn't survive the night. Mary Jo was shot but survived. Fred killed himself at the scene.
Mary Jo, 57, is a court reporter for Pima County. Eliot Cobb, 65, was the founder of an online luggage and handbag retailer.
The shooter wasn't just a fireman with a gun. He was a former cop — an ex-Pima County Sheriff's Department and Tucson Police Department employee who got caught up in a drug scandal and lost his law enforcement post nearly 30 years ago, TPD sources said. He'd had some training in how to use his weapon. Bair, 60, was one of the fire captains in the city's Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.
Sight unseen, who is more immediately assumed to be "a good guy" than firefighter? They charge into burning buildings, save our lives and can't write us speeding tickets.
That just makes the story all the more salacious — the tragic fall of a hero. Put the crime in an upscale shopping center with a city view and parking lot filled with expensive cars and the story gets even better. Now we have one of the newsroom's most overdone cliches: “It could never happen here,” which of course implies, “it's OK if it happens over there.”
The way reporters typically cover crime stories is from press releases. There's a crime. The police get the vital info to a press list. Journalists maybe call the PIO for a quote and to flesh out details. When the reporters actually go to the scene, it's a big deal (or a slow news day for TV). That's almost always when the scene doesn't match the crime. Smack-dab in the middle of the Catalina Foothills is the very definition of a scene that doesn't fit a public murder-suicide.
Other places? Sure. Those are "press-release murders." You don't see much full-team coverage of a shooting south of Ajo Way.
The deaths were tragedies because all lives matter. "How could this happen here?" Easy. Guns don't have GPS and statistically, there are probably a million firearms in the Tucson area.
Good guys who own them can have very bad moments.
The deal we make
In America we believe in the virtue of personal lethality. Killing should be easy in America, we've decided. It should be democratized. That's the only way we're safe, see.
American society has made an agreement with gun nuts who throw a tantrum at the merest mention of gun control. We understand that the National Rifle Association will lead an insurrection that burns our cities down if authorities try to confiscate. So we let the danger spread hoping that gun lovers won't take too many of us out if they get drunk, pissed off or jealous. When good guys buy guns, we want them to they stay that way.
Typically, they don't let us down.
It's a testament to gun owners that more of us aren't calling 911. Nothing disproves Thomas Hobbes notion of the State of Nature (life is nasty, brutish and short without the jackboot of government) more than America. We hand out the power to kill like coupons for a free order of fries with a burger purchase, and our murder rate is only five times that of the rest of the Western world.
Some of this may be due to women. As far as I'm concerned, women should be allowed to buy guns in vending machines and take them wherever they want. Men's guns should probably be kept in an armory behind a lock controlled by a Breathalyzer. Guns + testerone = Uh-oh.
The good-guy, bad-guy argument presumes without gun ownership, our murder rate would be higher. Let's say guns save two lives for every one lost. If so, America's natural murder rate would be about 10 per 100,000 without the Second Amendment. Following this wisdom, America is naturally as dangerous or more dangerous than the West Bank, Gaza, Afghanistan, Niger, Nigeria and Lebanon. I mention those countries because the U.S. State Department has active travel advisories about each.
On the other hand, countries that restrain gun ownership have murder rates that are fractions of ours. Do they naturally have more good guys? Or does America naturally have more bad guys?
If you believe that Americans the most murderous people among countries with rich sports franchises, then maybe we should ban refugees to protect the newcomers from our inherent barbarity.
Guaranteed, the NRA would all but put a fire captain on a poster with block text: “Good guy with a gun.” Gun buyers almost certainly all see themselves that way when they buy themselves some protection just in case. Then while waiting for "Just In Case" to burst through their front door, someone pisses them off. Presto! We got a headline.
In Arizona, we don't just buy this myth. We codify it. State law allows anyone with a concealed carry permit to walk into a bar without a very specific sign right next to the liquor license. And — gotta love it — they can still walk in to demand to see the sign and decide if it conforms to state law. So if Bair had a permit and said "I want to check out your sign," the staff at Firebird's could have done nothing until the shooting started. Then they could either shoot back or run.
Statistically, from the moment Bair bought that gun, the person he was most likely to kill was himself. There were 10,000 murders committed with guns in 2015 and 20,000 suicides by gun. And far too many of those murders are the culmination of domestic violence, not random crimes committed by strangers.
If a knife was more likely to slit the user's throat than cut up celery, plenty of people would want knife control too.
Guns don't kill and that's the ever-loving point. Gun owners aren't better or worse than the rest of us. They're just people and people get dark, deal with demons and can be seized by the impulse to impose their own sense of crazy-ass justice on the world.
Fred Bair's brother died Monday, with services held on Thursday. His divorce from Mary Jo was finalized in September.
Now, stifle, gun owners. You have won the argument. There's no putting 300 million weapons back in the box without refighting the Battle of Antietam. So the rest of us tread lightly on regulating a consumer product linked to 30,000 deaths each year. You get to buy, keep and lavish your guns with affection waiting for the day that maybe, just maybe, you can take down a home invader. Meanwhile, when your ex starts up with a new guy, then the weapon is there for that, too.
Of course it could happen in La Encantada. It can happen anywhere. So good guys without guns need to get guns to protect themselves from the other good guys with guns, in case they become bad guys.
It's an empty slogan that needs to go.
Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.