— This article by Jerry Cates, was published on 11 October 2015, and last revised on 9 November 2015. © Govinthenews Vol. 6:10(3).
The mass shooting at Umpqua Community College on 1 October 2015 elicited controversial comments from a variety of well-known characters. One in particular, GOP Presidential contender Dr. Ben Carson, expressed an incendiary view that has generated spirited, even rancorous debate.
Five days after the shooting, Carson was being interviewed on the television program “Fox and Friends.” In that interview, mention was made that the gunman forced everyone to lie on the floor, then had them get up, one-by-one, to answer the shooter’s questions regarding their religious beliefs.
As some of the victims remember it, professed Christians immediately received a lethal shot to their heads, while those who didn’t answer, or who replied they were other than Christian, were wounded with a shot to the leg. Others recall that the shooter simply asked if they were “believers” or if they believed in the afterlife. All who were asked were then shot, though whether the nature of their expressions of faith affected where they were shot is somewhat in dispute.
Carson was asked if he could put himself in the shoes of someone approached by a gunman and forced, at gunpoint, to declare his or her faith.
“I’m glad you asked that question,” Carson replied. “Not only would I probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.’” Then Carson smiled and seemed to chuckle.
It is interesting that none of those who since commented on Carson’s reply made note of the fact that he ignored the faith-based issue entirely. He could have gone off on how the shooter had demanded that the victims confess their beliefs, and how he would have answered the shooter’s question. Instead, Carson’s focus was on whether the victims should comply or resist. To Carson, compliance was out of the question.
It soon became evident that recommending resistance against an armed attacker was not what others wanted to hear. Angry retorts to Carson’s remarks were not long in coming:
Ladd Everitt Speaks Out
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years now and those were some of the ugliest comments that I’ve ever heard,” said Ladd Everitt, of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Everitt’s organization’s staff includes family members of victims of gun violence. In Everitt’s view, Carson was actually blaming the victims for their own deaths. In doing so, Everitt complained, he only added to the unbearable pain already being experienced by the victims’ families.
“His suggesting that if he had been there, he could have taken the shooter down through the power of Christ or somehow, it’s just unbelievable,” Everitt continued, adding “You begin to question this man’s mental health, doing this with a smile on his face and thinking it’s acceptable.”
Mr. Everitt, as Director of Communications of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence since May 2006, develops and manages communications in support of CSGV’s mission. Previously, he volunteered with the D.C. Crisis Response Team, and as volunteer president of the D.C. Chapter of the Million Mom March, conducting events for victims and survivors of gun violence, publishing letters and editorials in local and national periodicals, as well as participating in press conferences and demonstrations calling for new gun laws. He has also authored a comprehensive resource book for victims and survivors.
He was not present at the shooting, so his comments — especially having come from one who has, himself, made controversial statements in the past — are not as poignant as they would be had he actually been on the scene when the tragedy took place.
Still, at least one of those who were present at the UCC shooting said Carson’s comments, which Everitt and others characterized as victim-blaming, left him “fairly upset.”
Comments from “The Lucky One”
Mathew Downing, 18, was a student in the classroom where the shooting took place. The 26-year-old gunman even called him “the lucky one”:
“You, with the glasses,” said Chris Harper-Mercer as he motioned to Downing, “you’re the lucky one. If you give this envelope to the cops, you’ll live.”
Harper-Mercer handed Downing an envelope containing a flash drive, then sent him to the back of the room. There, in obedience to the shooter, he sat down and faced him, to watch what would happen next. From that vantage point he witnessed the shooter as he fired, indiscriminately, into the clot of students clustered in the center of the room.
He watched as the shooter interrogated several of his classmates, one by one, and either wounded or executed them on the spot. He sat there, transfixed, as the gunman shot students outside the classroom who wandered by or stood — unprotected — near the doorway, and as he engaged arriving police and was shot by one of them. Finally, he saw the now-wounded shooter — who during the incident had never left the classroom but had taken time to reload his weapons from a backpack he’d placed on the professor’s table at the front of the room — lower himself down to the classroom floor, press his gun against his own head, and end his miserable, cowardly life.
Having such an experience forced upon him must have been excruciating for Downing.
Afterward, in an interview on CNN, Downing was asked about Carson’s remarks. “I’m fairly upset he said that. Nobody could truly understand what actions they would take like that in a situation unless they lived it.”
The scars from this incident will be with Downing the rest of his life. All reasonable people must feel a deep sense of sympathy for him.
Eight days after the shooting, Luke Hammill of the Oregonian published the full text of Downing’s statement on his recollection of the UCC shooting. It provides — in combination with another report by Hammill that compares Downing’s statement with statements made by other victims — the most complete narrative available on what happened that fateful day, inside that UCC classroom.
Two Shootings, Two Very Different Outcomes…
The shooting at UCC came just a few weeks after three young American men were confronted by a gunman, carrying 300 rounds of ammunition and several loaded firearms, on a train traveling to Paris, France. The three Americans were unarmed, just like the students in that UCC classroom. Yet, though nearly all the rest of the passengers on that train (at least two others, one a Brit, another whose identity is less clear, however, assisted them) turned away from the gunfire and raced to another car, they did the exact opposite.
Inexplicably, some would say, they rushed and tackled the gunman, ignoring the danger he posed, and took him down. One of the Americans — who since that incident was stabbed and critically injured protecting a woman on the streets of Sacramento — sustained serious injuries during the melee.
From all accounts, the actions of this American trio on that Paris-bound train saved hundreds of lives. The French were so impressed by their heroic behavior that their president, François Hollande, was moved to award them the 5th rank of France’s highest honor, the Legion of Honor, created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte to recognize exceptional merit.
Later, each man was honored by American president Barack Obama with similar tokens of respect. Yet, in their own words, they did nothing out of the ordinary. They saw what needed to be done, and they did it. Heroes? Not in their eyes. But to the eyes of the world they were superheroes.
By way of contrast, no evidence has surfaced that the shooter at UCC was ever challenged in a serious way. One unarmed student from another classroom, U.S. Army veteran Chris Mintz, confronted the shooter, though unsuccessfully, and has been hailed as a hero for his actions. Rather than be paralyzed by fear, Mintz actually did something. Unfortunately, that something terminated in what appears to have been an ineffectual attempt to engage the shooter non-violently.
According to Downing’s statement, Mintz stood near the classroom door, outside. Earlier, he’d pulled the fire alarms in several nearby classrooms in an effort to get those students to evacuate to a safer location. Now he’d returned, to the scene where the gunman was still shooting, and stood there, outside the door. Mintz later said he tried to lock the shooter in the classroom, so he would not be able to leave, a questionable move at best. When the shooter opened another door and pointed a gun at him he begged him not to shoot, because it was his son’s birthday. The gunman, unmoved, shot him seven times. By some miracle, his wounds were not mortal.
What Distinguished the Two Incidents?
Two mass shooting incidents, two killers determined to kill and maim as many people as possible, with lots of firepower in the way of guns and ammunition… yet one ended with non-fatal injuries, and the other with nine dead and seven wounded. Both started with the shooter enjoying the element of surprise, but from that point on, all semblance ended. In the UCC classroom, unanimous panic overcame the would-be victims. On the Paris-bound train, three Americans stood up, set their jaws, and with fierce resolve and purpose sprinted toward the gunman.
The disjunction displayed in these two events could not be more stark.
What made the crucial difference? That’s the question this article seeks to answer. To do that we must begin by examining what happened at the UCC shooting.
Here’s what we know about that incident: The shooter first fired his gun through the window of the classroom he had targeted, shooting the professor in the head and, by all accounts, killing him instantly. Within seconds the gunman entered that classroom through the classroom door, his gun blazing, at once wounding and possibly killing several students. What happened next has already been described.
Watching their professor get shot in the head, then seeing the gunman — who was still shooting — race into the classroom, led to immediate pandemonium. The element of surprise was on the shooter’s side. His victims never recovered from their fright. From that point until the police arrived, he was in control, and no effort was made to counteract his acts of aggression.
All of the students in the classroom still alive were petrified to the point that all but one complied with the shooter’s demands. The one who didn’t had already been shot and pretended to be dead; she was spared additional wounds when the gunman assumed she was no longer alive.
Are Both Sides Right?
Those few details are enough to tell us that both sides of the debate on Dr. Carson’s comments are at least partially right. Carson wasn’t there, so nobody — including Carson — can say with absolute certainty how he would have reacted. Yet, until Carson mentioned fighting back, not one single commentator had so much as pointed out that even unarmed people, when facing an armed attacker, almost always have options beyond complying with the attacker’s demands.
This reveals a serious defect, one that pervades our culture today. It also reveals an unusual trait in Dr. Carson’s character. He was able to objectify and calmly dissect incidents of this nature, while most others are only able to focus on the horror.
Note: in recent days, Dr. Carson has been questioned about the veracity of some of the events he described in written, published accounts of his life. In the process, significant discrepancies have surfaced. Many are genuinely troubled by those discrepancies, to the point that they seriously question whether Dr. Carson should continue his campaign for the presidency. However, whether Carson is presidential material or not is irrelevant to the subject matter under consideration here. We know what he was asked about the UCC incident, and we know his exact answer, so our discussion related to that involves matters not in dispute on any level. Later in this article another incident that supposedly occurred in Carson’s personal life, when he was a young intern at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, will also be examined. In light of the recently exposed discrepancies in some of Carson’s previous accounts, that incident is clearly in dispute. Prudence dictates that we acknowledge that that incident might have been made up, or embellished, in Carson’s published account. For that reason, our consideration of that incident will be limited to discussing it as purely hypothetical.
There is one way in particular that Carson could have done that: we presume that he’d given serious and careful consideration to a number of incidents similar to this one before. In other words, he’d thought them through, and in the process noticed opportunities and capabilities afforded the victims that those who panic cannot see. We believe that is the case because, when asked what he would do, as a victim placed in such a situation, he had a ready answer that appeared to have been drawn, reflexively, from memory. It wasn’t the kind of answer his questioner expected.
Most of us refuse to think — even for a moment, much less as part of a mental exercise occupying hours and days of careful reflection — about the bad things that might happen to us and to those around us. We consciously block such things out of our minds.
We act as if, by not allowing such thoughts to enter our brains, we protect ourselves from them. That’s not the way the world works. Bad things aren’t kept from happening just by not thinking about them. Surely we know that. We just don’t want to think that.
Inside each of us lurks both a coward and a hero, contending for attention. For most of us, the coward is seated near the head, the hero near the foot, of our mental table of honor. As long as the coward rules our thoughts, the last thing we want to imagine is how we, personally, would behave when someone is trying to kill us. Not Dr. Carson.
The Sin of Victim-Blaming
Everitt claims that Carson’s answer to the question asked of him on “Fox and Friends” amounted to blaming the victim, and Everitt is right, of course.
Carson is without doubt a victim-blamer, and probably proud of it. The question, now, is whether there is virtue in encouraging victims to fight back, and discouraging them from complying, when under attack. Despite society’s near-unanimous condemnation of victim-blaming, we must ask if it is possible that the practice of victim-blaming might actually have merit.
For most, the answer is a no-brainer: Victims are, by definition, blameless. Only a heartless person would criticize a victim for not standing up to an attacker. In fact, just asking the question is an insult to all victims, everywhere.
For others, though, a no-brainer is simply for people without brains: Thinking things like this through, step by step, should be as natural — to those with ordinary brainpower — as walking. It should be just as natural to realize that we all have a responsibility to ourselves, our families, and to others who may be involved in an attack, to resist evil. And,of course, we should use our brains to do it in a systematic, purposeful way. If we listed everything in life worth thinking about and preparing for, how we resist evil would have to be on that list. For Carson, it is at or near the top.
What Carson seemed to be saying was that victims who give up when attacked actually become part of the problem. Victims who counterattack and save their lives and those of others are no longer victims. They’re heroes.
So, who is right?
Who is right on this is clearly a matter of debate, as both sides feel passionately about their positions. As such, the question — whether to resist or comply with an attacker — should be amenable to forensic analyses and presentments of verifiable proofs, in a discussion conducted in accord with established rules of evidence. Let’s reason it through, then, beginning with what both sides of the debate should be able to agree on.
No doubt all would admit that unless something can be gained by standing up to an attacker, the common view that doing so is foolish makes the most sense. That view is popular because it places all the responsibility on the attacker, and none on the victim. It gives the victim a way out, and simplifies things just the way we like it.
Keeping things as simple as possible is a no-brainer, too. Simplicity always makes perfect sense, until it doesn’t. Here it doesn’t make sense at all if, in fact, something — possibly everything (survival, as one wise man put it, is everything) — can be gained by counterattacking the evil that drops in on us.
Note: Here, when we speak of evil, we refer primarily to its secular definition. Evil, in this context, is simply the exact opposite of goodness. Traits commonly associated with evil include unbalanced behavior, characterized by expediency, selfishness, willful ignorance, and wanton neglect.
Proponents of resisting evil claim that victims who counterattack usually win. Not just sometimes, but most of the time. Those who resist evil save lives, not only theirs but often the lives of others. If that is true, shouldn’t we encourage victims — who through determined resistance may have the power to stop or limit the carnage their attacker intends to inflict — to accept their responsibilities?
What if, within a given culture, everyone was taught the virtue of standing up for what is right with all their might? What if everybody in that culture was conditioned to look for, recognize, and resist evil the moment it surfaced? Proponents of resisting evil, people like Dr. Carson, have a ready answer: The amount of evil tolerated by society determines how much evil that society experiences. Stop tolerating it, and it becomes uncommon. History, they say, verifies that during times when evil is given free rein it proliferates, but when indignant people refuse to take it any more, evil is forced to crawl and slink back into the darkest corners of the land.
But, if that is true, how should a person under attack react? That’s the next question we need to answer. To get to that answer we must first ask how Carson might have come to the conclusion that prompted his reply to the question posed during his interview on “Fox and Friends.”
Victimization and Heroism
Because of his life experiences, both as a neurosurgeon and as a person of color growing up on the streets of Detroit, Carson faced evil on a daily basis. As a result, he had almost certainly been forced to ask himself how he’d deal with a murderer, who was bent on killing him, under a variety of different scenarios. On a bus, in a classroom, on the street, in a dark alley, you name it. Regardless of where the threat might arise, he wanted to be prepared.
According to a published account of his life, from a time some thirty some-odd years ago, that preparation had paid off, though in a way some will have trouble understanding. He was, he says, at the counter of a Popeyes, ordering french fries, when a robber rushed in waving a gun. When the robber pointed the gun at him, Carson casually said “You want the guy behind the register.” The robber pointed his gun away from Carson toward the register and the clerk quickly handed over the cash. Then — cash in hand — the robber raced out the door with several restaurant patrons in hot pursuit.
Carson, a young doctor at the time, was in his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital, across the street. Surprisingly to some, in his published account of this robbery he did two things that seem quite questionable. First, he told the robber not to rob him, but to rob the cash register, instead. Then, when the robber fled, he didn’t join the pursuit to bring the perpetrator to justice. Whether this incident actually took place or not is in dispute, but we do know some things about the setting. Robberies like that took place in Baltimore constantly during the early 1980’s. Most of the time nobody got hurt, so many of those who happened to be innocent bystanders naturally shrugged it off. Their focus was on avoiding real threats to their lives, and so they naturally avoided unnecessary risks when nobody’s lives appeared to be on the line.
At least two of the three Americans on the Paris-bound train — both had military training — had also been forced to think through, step by step, how they would react to threatening situations. They knew how to size up threats and mount an immediate counterattack if needed. They could see, in the blink of an eye, that the gunman in their train car was ready to shoot and kill indiscriminately, so the need to counterattack was clear. Time was of the essence if they were to prevent him from carrying out his plan, so they sprang into action, without delay, and took him out.
Mental Role Playing
What those three Americans had done to prepare for a dangerous threat is called role playing. They’d thought long and hard on the bad things that could happen to them, with a view toward thwarting a threat and surviving.
There are two elements to that kind of exercise. One involves running through various scenarios, in the mind, over and over, thinking how best to react in a way that maximizes one’s chances of survival. The second is developing what is known as “situational awareness,” a sensitivity to what’s going on in your surroundings, so the element of surprise isn’t lost to the perpetrator.
With situational awareness you make a habit of noticing, and processing, everything that is happening around you. You search out and pick up on clues most others don’t notice. As a result, you are not caught unawares when something bad is about to happen. Then, when what you think you see unfolding turns out to be the real thing, you can spring into action and deal with it the best way possible.
Similarly, it seems reasonable to believe that, in his mind’s eye, Carson had put himself in the shoes of those victims at UCC, over and over again in his past. As a result, he had a pretty good idea how he’d react. You may have questioned, earlier, how being a neurosurgeon could have helped him do that. If so, and if you were able to ask him, he’d likely reply with “I’m glad you asked that question,” and then he’d explain, with a smile and a chuckle, probably like this:
Confronting, and Defeating, the results of Murphy’s Law
As a neurosurgeon he’s been trained to consider all the things that can possibly go wrong during a surgical procedure. He lives his life in full recognition of the consequences of Murphy’s Law (“Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, at the worst possible time“). In the Operating Room the unexpected often happens, but the lives of his patients demanded that proper reactions to the unexpected must never be unplanned; so he planned, ceaselessly, for the unexpected, and that enabled him to confront and fix problems the second they arose, before they could spiral out of control.
That’s what made him a great surgeon. It is also what enabled him to survive on the streets of Detroit as a child and a young man. Somewhere along the way he may even have read Jeff Cooper’s 1972 book on Personal Defense, which Cooper published just before Carson entered medical school. In the introduction to his book, Col. Cooper wrote these words:
“Violent crime is feasible only if its victims are cowards. A victim who fights back makes the whole business impractical. It is true that a victim who fights back may suffer for it, but one who does not almost certainly will suffer for it. And, suffer or not, the one who fights back retains his dignity and his self-respect. Any study of the atrocity list of recent years — Starkweather, Speck, Manson, Richard Hickok, and Cary Smith, et al — shows immediately that the victims, by their appalling ineptitude and timidity assisted in their own murders.” Jeff Cooper, Introduction, Principles of Personal Defense.
Cooper was not reluctant to blame the victim for assisting in their own murders. His focus was on saving lives, not pandering to weak-kneed people who cave in to an attacker’s demands. The same mindset espoused by Cooper, and expressed by Ben Carson in his interview on “Fox and Friends” is what made the three Americans on the Paris-bound train heroes.
The difference between them and most of their peers is that they were mentally prepared for adversity, ready to react immediately with a solution that had some chance of success. The important point is, anybody, even those who are weak-kneed today, can do that tomorrow with just a little preparation. Any would-be victim, anywhere, anytime, who is mentally prepared to deal with a threat from an assailant can, and often will, win the fight. That goes even if they are outgunned or out-knifed or even out-manned. So say the proponents of resisting evil.
Fact, not Fiction
And that’s a fact, they’ll tell you. No, they say, it’s not just an opinion. It’s a proven fact. In his foreword to Jeff Cooper’s 2006 revision of his 1972 book “Principles of Personal Defense,” mentioned earlier, Louis Awerbuck wrote the following words of wisdom:
“… the mind is more important than any mechanical weapon. An armed idiot savant could be a dangerous enemy. But an armed idiot with no savant may as well be unarmed. He’s just an idiot.”
Ah, yes, the brain — that blob atop our necks — is back on the stand…
You, as well as every other potential victim of a vicious armed attack, says Cooper, are not an idiot. You have a wonderful, pliable, teachable mind that is eager to learn how to protect you from adversity, even its armed variant, if you just push your coward toward the back of the table and let your hero sit closer to the front. Your mind, alone, is a much more powerful weapon than you may think, they tell us:
Unarmed people under attack by armed assailants almost never have to just lie there and take it. Three unarmed Americans on a Paris-bound train proved that beyond the shadow of a doubt, and many similar examples from recent history prove the same thing. Those three Americans, it can honestly be said, had the mindsets of heroes.
“But those three Americans were also lucky!” some will quickly chime in. True enough. But, comes the retort, have you noticed? Luck and heroism tend to go together. And luck is useless unless the luck that comes the hero’s way is recognized as such and properly utilized, right then.
Your Choice: You can Take On the Hero’s Mindset…
What exactly is a hero? Maybe we should look into the definition of the word.
In Ancient Greek the hero was traditionally described as a person who — in the face of danger or from a position of weakness — behaved with courage, bravery or self-sacrifice in pursuit of an object of greater importance than the hero’s own personal safety. Some like to add two more things to that list: (1) Heroes have an optimistic “can-do” attitude; they believe they can do what the moment asks of them, even against great odds, and (2) they’ve gone over similar situations in their minds before, and have an inkling of how they would react if and when the situation demands it.
They’d add that optimistic, can-do attitudes are learned. You are not born with that, it comes with practice, because the more you find out you can do, the more you want to do, and accomplishment builds both optimism and character. People who cultivate such attitudes discover that they pay big dividends. It changes lives, far transcending the narrow topic we’re discussing here, and always for the better. One of the most important rewards of such an attitude is that, when luck pops in, those with optimism see it immediately, and use it to their advantage. Heroes do that. And they often save lives as a result.
Heroism was what we saw in the behavior of the three Americans on the Paris-bound train. It also marked the first astronauts that orbited earth, and those who — later on — first walked on the moon. But you don’t have to be an astronaut or a neurosurgeon to be a hero:
That spark of heroism motivates ordinary working-class people. People like Lewis Thomas who, back in 1996, noticed two young men robbing and pistol-whipping three 15-year-old boys at gunpoint in the subway car he was riding in downtown Philadelphia. He could tell they were likely to kill or permanently maim their victims, so they couldn’t report the crime to the cops.
Not one of the other passengers nearby intervened. Instead they cowered, with their faces in their newspapers pretending not to notice, hoping they would not become the robbers’ next targets. But Thomas — a 49-year-old laborer — watched what was going on and instead of being afraid felt a feeling of fierce indignation rip through his being. In answer to that feeling, he got off his rump and moved purposely toward the gunmen, ignoring their shouts to sit down, determined to make them break off their attack.
One shot him in the leg, before both robbers leaped from the train at the next stop. There the other passengers — who had earlier cowered as the robbers worked over those innocent boys — exited the train in a big hurry, ignoring Thomas’s gunshot wound, without so much as offering to help. He even had to walk to the nearest hospital.
Considering what we’ve been discussing this far, ask yourself this: Did Thomas react to what he saw happening without thinking? He was 49, had ridden that train many times before, and had gone over in his mind, time and again, how best to react when a threat of that nature arose. He was willing to risk his own life to protect the lives of others. Yet, he was smart enough to recognize that the perpetrators robbing those young boys didn’t expect anybody to come to the defense of their youthful victims who, if they survived, would probably not report the robbery or, if they did, would probably not be given much of hearing.
They had not prepared for an older man like Thomas to intervene. They knew he would not only report them if he survived, but because of his age he would be respected by the police, and would follow up on his report until the perpetrators he reported were identified and charged. When Thomas stood up to them, they didn’t know what to do. His selfless intervention, though leaving him wounded, probably saved lives.
We could recount hundreds of similar examples of heroism, performed by famous and not-so-famous people. Surely you get the point by now. Heroism is not all that uncommon. What is uncommon is an appreciation for it, and the belief that heroism is a character trait that should be cultivated in the breasts of every man, woman, and child in America today.
Or You can be Paralyzed by Fear…
Sadly, though, the heroic character trait is not encouraged by society the way it should be. We glorify the victim, and make excuses for the criminals, with totally predictable results. Instead of regular examples of heroism, we hear about far too many contrary examples where unarmed people, faced with a threat, behaved exactly like sheep being led to the slaughter. Chief among such examples are the eight sweet, beautiful and talented nurses who were tortured, raped, and killed in Chicago, by Richard Speck, in 1966.
Speck, armed only with a knife, broke into a townhouse and held the nine nurses who lived there hostage, for hours. He ordered them all to stay still, and — paralyzed by fear — they did just as they were told. Over the next several hours he systematically took them, one after the other, to another room in the townhouse. There he tortured, raped, and killed each nurse while the others cowered in another room, afraid even to move a muscle. Only one of the nine nurses survived. She hid under a bed until Speck, apparently losing count and thinking he’d killed them all, left. Not one of the nurses had tried to escape.
Blame the victims? Not in a million years, at least on one level. Yet, on another level, how could we not?
Their patients deserved better. How many sick people who would have benefitted immeasurably from the tender care lavished on them by these nurses would now lose those wonderful experiences? And their families… their moms, dads, sisters and brothers, not to mention the children they were most likely destined to bring into the world sometime in the future… How sad for all of them.
Think about that, and when you do, don’t you wish they had been told to think through what they might do in a situation like the one they faced that day in Chicago?
What About You?
It is one thing to discuss how others have, would, or should behave under harrowing circumstances, and another when your life is on the line. How would you react in a similar situation? Have you even thought about it?
Not one of us really knows the answer to the question of how we’d act if and when the fickle finger of fate points our way. That fact, however, is not an excuse for snapping our minds shut on the subject. Just thinking about it, even going over it in your mind and considering various scenarios and how you could, might, and ought to react is a good first step in the right direction. Have you noticed the hero in you? The one who is clamoring to be placed at least on a par with your coward? Do you have what it takes to ignite that spark of heroism that would, if necessary, move the hero to the front of the table where it can make you do the right thing to save your life and the lives of others, if and when a madman with a gun or a knife enters at stage left?
Heroism lives in all of us. Yes, every last one of us has that spark inside our character. For some it is on or near the surface, just waiting for the moment when it is needed. For others, it is buried so deep it doesn’t even appear to exist, but even for them it is there. Many, on reflecting on such “nonsense” as their possible heroic natures right now, will say to themselves “I’d have to just lie there and hope for the best… there’s no way I could ever try to rush a man with a knife or a gun and hope to overpower him… I’m not any kind of a hero.”
It is amazing how many people think that way. Most think they cannot change, to one day begin thinking like a hero. If you are one of those people, you are not alone, but that will not be of any comfort if, at some time in the future you find yourself explaining, to a reporter, how you didn’t lift a finger when evil rose up around you.
Assuming, of course, you are still alive to talk. Heroism is a lifesaver, but cowardice kills. Resolve, instead, to awaken your hero and prepare for evil the way heroes do. You don’t know how you will react if you are threatened, sometime in the future, but if your hero has been awakened chances are your actions will make more sense than if your coward is the defining feature of your character.
It’s your choice. Don’t forget that. You can choose to develop your heroic character, or you can let yourself be paralyzed by fear. You, your family, your neighborhood, city, state, and nation will be better off if you choose heroism. But it is still up to you.
Thoughts on the UCC Scene…
To prove that last assertion, which many refuse to accept, we must first delve into the details of how heroes behave.
Once the gunman was inside that UCC classroom, with all the students cowering in one corner of the room, rushing him might have been a crazy idea. Chances are the first one or two who tried would have given their lives in the process. They would have to sacrifice their very lives so the rest could live.
Or maybe not.
Would their heroics, had they surfaced, have saved any lives at all? What if all the rest just sat there, as their heroic classmates died trying to save them? That could happen. Remember, almost all the passengers on the Paris-bound train rushed out, away from the gunman.
The best chance for success against the UCC shooter would likely have come within seconds of the first shot. The heroes in that classroom would have had to race to the door before the gunman entered, to wait for him to blaze his way in, and take him down from behind.
If everybody just remained frozen in fear, letting the gunman enter and take control, the heroes-come-lately who might have tried to rush him might die in vain. That’s what would have happened on the Paris-bound train, had the gunman there shot the three Americans who ran toward him. All the other passengers were running in the opposite direction, crowding the other cars tightly, so the gunman could kill them like shooting fish in a barrel.
Fortunately the three Americans didn’t think about all that. All they thought about was that the gunman needed to be taken down, and they were the only ones willing to do it. So, in a split second reaction, with a “Let’s go…” they hot-footed it in the gunman’s direction. Luckily, the man’s gun jammed, and that gave them the precious seconds needed to reach and subdue him before he could clear the jam and start shooting again.
Now, at UCC, a similar situation had developed. Perhaps nobody could have prevented the first shot that killed the professor. Nobody expected a gunman to show up at class that day, just as nobody thought a gunman would be on the Paris-bound train. But, once that first shot was fired, several students could have rushed to the front, positioning themselves on both sides of the classroom door, determined to take the gunman down the minute he tried to enter. Granted, that would require the presence of at least one, preferably two, three or four students possessing the same kind of heroic spirits we witnessed in the Paris-bound Americans.
It would also have required them to react immediately, together, using what amounted to overwhelming force. Like Dr. Carson’s evident preparation for O.R. emergencies, they would need to have thought through what they would do if something like that happened where they were.
Evidently, though, none of the students in that UCC classroom had done that. Perhaps if they had, and someone found out, they would have been ridiculed for worrying about “stuff that won’t ever happen.” Maybe you have made fun of someone that way, in the past. Unfortunately, from all indications nobody in that UCC classroom had managed to worry very much about stuff that would never happen. In any case, nobody challenged the shooter. When it was over, nine were dead and seven more were wounded. Sorry for repeating that sad fact once more, but it is germane to the discussion…
An Additional Option
Unarmed resistance to armed attack works, but it must be carried out with overwhelming force and determination. Just because you are not armed is not an excuse for caving in. But, if that sounds like something impossible for you to do, there are still other alternatives for many of us today.
According to my understanding, Oregon state law allows students with concealed carry permits to possess guns in UCC’s classrooms despite prohibitions against it in UCC’s published regulations. It is true that UCC regulations prohibited students, even those with concealed carry permits, from carrying on campus, yet Oregon law trumps UCC’s regulations. Permitted individuals could carry concealed firearms on the UCC campus without fear they would be punished, in any way, for doing so. Unfortunately, many who read the UCC regulations assume they cannot carry there, and so they don’t. For that reason alone, UCC can rightfully be considered a “Gun Free Zone.”
Recent numbers released by the Oregon State Police indicate that 1 in every 16 Oregonians has a permit to carry a concealed firearm. That’s up from 1 in 22 in 2010, a big improvement to those who support gun rights, or a big downer to those who want to ban guns altogether. Now, though, after the shooting at UCC, that number will likely climb much higher, because in Oregon those who support gun rights outnumber those who’d ban guns by a wide margin.
But, more to the point, how many of those legally able to carry concealed firearms actually take their firearms with them when they are away from home? In Texas — where, in 2014, only one in 32 persons had a concealed handgun license — the number of those with permits who take their firearms “on the streets” is relatively low. Reliable statistics on that are hard to find, but the number may be as low as, or even lower than, one in 20 (in Oregon, that would mean only 1 in 320 people you meet on the street might be carrying a legally concealed firearm, while in Texas only 1 in 652 you meet might be carrying at any one time). Chances are, however, incidents like that at UCC will cause that number to rise, too.
One or more of those present in that classroom could have been legally armed. Had that been the case, the gunman could have been taken down by an armed defender the minute he entered the classroom. Again, that didn’t happen. Many look at that as a failure on the part of a pervasive anti-gun sentiment in America today. In the absence of such a sentiment, things at UCC may have been very different that day.
Oregon has been required, by state law, to issue concealed carry permits to citizens not prohibited from owning firearms since 1989. Renewable 4-year permits cost $65.00 in Oregon today and are issued by the county sheriff, who — admittedly — has some discretion over the permitting process.
In general, though, despite the sheriff’s margin of discretion, Oregon is considered a “shall issue” state. That means, unless a citizen is not a “prohibited person” with specific legal disabilities that prevent the sheriff from doing so, the permit “shall” be issued. Prohibited persons include individuals under the age of 21, so many UCC students — being younger than that — would not be able to carry concealed firearms. However, several of the students in that classroom (and in most classrooms across the nation today), were over 21, and some were way over that age. They were not carrying. If they had been, things might have been different…
Several legally armed students were, in fact, on the UCC campus at the time. Had they been in that classroom, any one of them could have saved the day. Unfortunately, they were elsewhere, and when they heard the first few shots, they were told to shelter in place, rather than take the risk they would be shot by arriving police.
They did as they were told. But how risky would it have been for them to attempt to engage the shooter? What kept those armed students from proceeding toward the sound of gunfire, to protect their fellow students? Was it wisdom, as many claim, or was it a simple lack of heroic spirit, the kind that made the three Americans on that Paris-bound train get off their rumps and race toward their gunman, without any thought of their own safety?
Life Goes On.
Yes, life goes on. The question now is how the rest of us will live the remainder of our lives. Will we still cower when an armed individual threatens us? Or will we fight back, whether we are armed or not? Will we race toward the gunshots, to do our part in bringing the perpetrator down, or will we run for our lives in the opposite direction? If our state allows us to carry a concealed firearm, will we take the steps necessary to obtain one, and get the training needed to handle a firearm in a threatening situation? And, once we have a permit, will we carry our firearm, or leave it home when we go to places where concealed firearms are allowed by law?
Good questions. Think them over.
Where to go from here…
We know now, more about the reasoning behind Carson’s and Cooper’s advice. We’ve known for years the value of living in accord with Murphy’s Law, and now can apply it to the way we handle bad things that happen. Now we know the incredible value of fighting back, of the importance of not being paralyzed by fear but of being moved to action by indignation. We also see the need for planning ahead so when bad things happen we can react in a positive way.
But recognizing all that isn’t enough. The traits just listed must be tied together by an indispensable, unifying process, that of cultivating and exercising a constant sense of situational awareness. It does no good to plan ahead if evil comes upon you unawares. Learn how to do that, and the other traits will be much easier to master.
- Cooper, Jeff. 2006. Principles of Personal Defense. Palladin Press.
- Hammill, Luke. 9 October 2015. Mathew Downing’s Statement on Oregon Shooting: Full Text. Oregon Live: The Oregonian.
- Hammill, Luke. 9 October 2015. Oregon Shooting: Mathew Downing, ‘the lucky one,’ details harrowing day. Oregon Live: The Oregonian.
— Questions? Corrections? Comments? e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also register, log in, and leave a detailed comment in the space provided below.