Massad Ayoob: Gunfighting Fact vs. Fiction

GUNS & GEAR — Sometimes, what seems like good advice at the time is proven later to be not so great. The record shows that decades ago, when more adult Americans smoked than not, popular magazines carried ads in which physicians endorsed this or that brand of cigarette. Brand A was an excellent aid to digestion after meals, one doctor said. The menthol in Brand B was soothing to a sore throat, another physician opined.

Today, of course, we know better. Oncologists who’ve treated patients suffering from throat cancer will tell you that those old claims are bunk. They sure sounded authoritative back in the day, though. Some advice on gunfight survival goes back to the same era. And some of it is just as suspect. Let’s look at a few examples.

Myth #1: A Good Shoot Is A Good Shoot

In the old days, there was some truth to this. When it was reasonably clear that a good guy had shot a bad guy, the criminal justice system ruled it to be a justifiable action, and things were pretty much done with. Oh, there might have been a lawsuit here or there, but it was not common to see a huge wrongful death lawsuit levied on the shooter after a fatal use of force in legitimate defense of oneself or others.

Slowly, things changed. The gun control movement gained traction in the 1960s after the assassinations of President Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy. This time, the mainstream media went in the same direction, gathering a huge momentum that remains through today. From the nation’s major TV networks and the influential big city newspapers and national news magazines, to the groves of academe, it became popular to treat guns and the people who owned them as an embarrassing, dangerous manifestation of low-class stupidity. This also applied for ordinary people who picked up a gun in legitimate self-defense. It was as if the journalists’ style guide automatically decreed that the term “vigilante” be applied to those who saved themselves and others from being victimized.

Today, a good shoot isn’t a “good shoot” until the authorities say so and the last false allegation of a “bad shoot” has been decisively stamped out. It’s a predictable aftermath that must be prepared for, just as the gunfight itself must be prepared for well beforehand.

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