The truth about the Oklahoma shooting that conservatives and the NRA can’t stop talking about

The reality is much more complicated.

Following a shooting in Oklahoma, the NRA and conservatives seized the opportunity to promote the NRA's "good guy with a gun" theory, claiming a civilian with a firearm had prevented the incident from turning deadly. (CREDIT: Fox News, screenshot)
Following a shooting in Oklahoma, the NRA and conservatives seized the opportunity to promote the NRA's "good guy with a gun" theory, claiming a civilian with a firearm had prevented the incident from turning deadly. (CREDIT: Fox News, screenshot)

On Thursday night, a man allegedly walked into a restaurant in Oklahoma City and opened fire with a pistol, injuring a mother and a daughter who were celebrating a birthday. Two other people were injured, one breaking his arm fleeing the scene. After firing multiple shots, the alleged shooter then exited the restaurant. In the parking lot, the suspected gunman was confronted by another person with a handgun, who then fatally shot the man.

The Oklahoma City Police have not released any specific information about the shooter’s motive, but praised the good samaritan’s actions.

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“It looks like [the suspect] had a handgun, and the civilian had a handgun,” Capt. Bo Matthews said in a press conference shortly after the incident. Speaking with local ABC affiliate KOCO-TV, he added, “This is a blessing that it was stopped at this point, who knew when this guy was going to stop shooting people.”

According to the Associated Press, police said there would likely have been more casualties, if not for the civilian’s quick thinking.

Conservatives have since seized on the incident as an example of a “good guy with a gun,” a phrase popularized by National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Right-wing figures like Sebastian Gorka and conservative outlets like The Daily Caller have both latched onto that theory, claiming in subsequent tweets that the incident was proof the only person capable of stopping a “bad guy with a gun” was a “good guy with a gun.”

The NRA itself, typically silent after mass shooting incidents, has also used the incident to boast about how an “armed citizen saved multiple lives.”

The NRA also used the moment to attack Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) for vetoing a concealed carry bill.

The situation, however, may be more complex than the NRA and conservative figures have claimed, and may not be the best evidence for the “good guy with a gun” theory.

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While the civilian’s actions were no doubt heroic, they should be taken in context. According to eyewitness Ron Benton, interviewed by KFOR, the alleged shooter exited the restaurant and began walking erratically on the sidewalk, still armed and with ear and eye protection on his head. Benton said another car exited the parking lot at that point, then turned around and stopped. A man — the “good guy with a gun” civilian — got out, went to his trunk, and began to exchange fire with the alleged shooter after Benton pointed him toward the gunman.

After the shooting stopped, Benton said he emerged from behind the car he had ducked behind and saw that the civilian had “taken [the alleged gunman] down,” but noticed the police were also pulling into the lot at that same moment.

“There was a lot of confusion for the police officer just trying to figure out who’s who, and what happened here,” he recalled. “So a friend and I just walked over and said, ‘No these three guys’ (by then there was a third guy who had come), and said, ‘No, these three guys were here to help,’ and just make sure the police were OK with that.”

While the armed bystander certainly deserves applause, the situation could have become worse, had the police responding to the incident mistaken the civilian for the alleged shooter.

Research discounts the “good guy with a gun” theory. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that allowing state residents to conceal carry firearms actually increases violent crime in the tenth year after laws are enacted. And research released by the FBI in 2014 found that more often, active shooter incidents were ended by unarmed citizens than armed citizens.

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The “good guy with a gun” theory also doesn’t account for the number of incidents in which a civilian or officer with a firearm is present, but still unable to prevent tragedy, for any number of reasons. The School Resource Officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida did not deter nor stop the mass shooting that killed 17. The Tucson shooting that resulted in six deaths and a severe head injury to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) occurred despite an armed bystander rushing to the scene and attempting to intervene. In that instance, too, the bystander actually mistook another armed bystander for the shooter, initially.

Additionally, there have been a host of other incidents where unarmed civilians have also taken out shooters or stopped them in the act.

On Friday, for example, one day after the Oklahoma City incident, a shooting at a middle school in Noblesville, Indiana was averted after the shooter was allegedly disarmed by a teacher who “was able to swat the gun away,” WSBT reporter Todd Connor said. Although a Noblesville school official noted in April that the district had four armed police officers with presences in the local elementary and middle schools, it was the unarmed teacher, in this instance, who ended the threat.

An incident at a Waffle House in Nashville was also interrupted earlier in May after an unarmed civilian, James Shaw Jr., rushed the alleged gunman, who was carrying an AR-15 style rifle, and wrestled the gun away from him, ending the shooting spree. Although four people were killed, police praised Shaw’s quick thinking and said he had likely saved many lives.

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The Oklahoma incident comes one week after a mass shooting at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas, which left 10 people dead, despite the presence of two armed school police officers. It’s still unclear whether some of the victims of the shooting were killed in the crossfire between the shooter and the armed officers.