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Slate.com
updated 1/11/2011 9:39:33 AM ET 2011-01-11T14:39:33

Does the Tucson massacre justify tighter gun control? Don't be silly. Second-Amendment advocates never look at mass shootings that way. For every nut job wreaking mayhem with a semiautomatic weapon, there's a citizen with a firearm who could have stopped him. Look at the 1991 slaughter in Killeen, Texas, where 23 people died in a restaurant while a patron's handgun, thanks to a dumb law, was left outside in her car. Look at the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, where 32 people died because under the university's naïve policy, nobody in the invaded classrooms was allowed to carry a firearm. Guns save lives. So the argument goes.

Now comes the tragedy in Tucson. And what do gun advocates propose? More guns. Arizona already lets people carry concealed weapons without requiring permits. The legislature is considering two bills to expand this right, and as Slate's David Weigel reports, the Arizona Citizens Defense League is preparing legislation that would require the state to offer firearms training to politicians and their staff. The bill is tentatively titled the Giffords-Zimmerman Act in honor of the wounded congresswoman and her slain aide. "When everyone is carrying a firearm, nobody is going to be a victim," argues the state's top pro-gun legislator. Beyond Arizona, at least two members of Congress say they'll brings guns while traveling their districts.

The new poster boy for this agenda is Joe Zamudio, a hero in the Tucson incident. Zamudio was in a nearby drug store when the shooting began, and he was armed. He ran to the scene and helped subdue the killer. Television interviewers are celebrating his courage, and pro-gun blogs are touting his equipment. "Bystander Says Carrying Gun Prompted Him to Help," says the headline in the Wall Street Journal.

But before we embrace Zamudio's brave intervention as proof of the value of being armed, let's hear the whole story. "I came out of that store, I clicked the safety off, and I was ready," he explained on Fox and Friends. "I had my hand on my gun. I had it in my jacket pocket here. And I came around the corner like this." Zamudio demonstrated how his shooting hand was wrapped around the weapon, poised to draw and fire. As he rounded the corner, he saw a man holding a gun. "And that's who I at first thought was the shooter," Zamudio recalled. "I told him to 'Drop it, drop it!'"

But the man with the gun wasn't the shooter. He had wrested the gun away from the shooter. "Had you shot that guy, it would have been a big, fat mess," the interviewer pointed out.

Zamudio agreed:

"I was very lucky. Honestly, it was a matter of seconds. Two, maybe three seconds between when I came through the doorway and when I was laying on top of [the real shooter], holding him down. So, I mean, in that short amount of time I made a lot of really big decisions really fast. … I was really lucky."

When Zamudio was asked what kind of weapons training he'd had, he answered: "My father raised me around guns … so I'm really comfortable with them. But I've never been in the military or had any professional training. I just reacted."

The Arizona Daily Star, based on its interview with Zamudio, adds two details to the story. First, upon seeing the man with the gun, Zamudio "grabbed his arm and shoved him into a wall" before realizing he wasn't the shooter. And second, one reason why Zamudio didn't pull out his own weapon was that "he didn't want to be confused as a second gunman."

Video: Inside the mind of Jared Lee Loughner (on this page)

This is a much more dangerous picture than has generally been reported. Zamudio had released his safety and was poised to fire when he saw what he thought was the killer still holding his weapon. Zamudio had a split second to decide whether to shoot. He was sufficiently convinced of the killer's identity to shove the man into a wall. But Zamudio didn't use his gun. That's how close he came to killing an innocent man. He was, as he acknowledges, "very lucky."

That's what happens when you run with a firearm to a scene of bloody havoc. In the chaos and pressure of the moment, you can shoot the wrong person. Or, by drawing your weapon, you can become the wrong person—a hero mistaken for a second gunman by another would-be hero with a gun. Bang, you're dead. Or worse, bang bang bang bang bang: a firefight among several armed, confused, and innocent people in a crowd. It happens even among trained soldiers. Among civilians, the risk is that much greater.

We're enormously lucky that Zamudio, without formal training, made the right split-second decisions. We can't count on that the next time some nut job starts shooting. I hope Arizona does train lawmakers and their aides in the proper use of firearms. I hope they remember this training if they bring guns to constituent meetings. But mostly, I hope they don't bring them.

© 2013 Slate.com

Video: Witnesses: Gunman  was ‘cold-blooded’

  1. Closed captioning of: Witnesses: Gunman  was ‘cold-blooded’

    >>> this tragedy could have been even worse if some quickhink ing bystanders hadn't pinned the shooter to the ground. on saturday you went to the safe way -- can you guys hear me?

    >> yes, we can.

    >> dr. rayle , if i could start with you, i know you went to the safe way on saturday, specifically to meet congresswoman gifford, you never met her before, you just wanted to shake her hand. you were standing in line to do just that. at what point did you see the gun gunman?

    >> i came around the table after i looked at congresswoman giffords. i was about ten feet away from him and i saw him as he shot her. he was not taking aim at anybody, there's enough people at close quarters that he just shot whoever was in front of him.

    >> but it was clear to you that he was targeting her specifically?

    >> he shot her first and, yes, he came up, shot her pointblank in the head and then just turned to everybody who was around.

    >> dr. rayle , how many people were there at the time?

    >> i estimate in that area, 25 to maybe 30.

    >> and i know you described it as a confined area, there was this concrete post and then there was a table and people were sort of confined in that particular space. so how were you able to protect yourself?

    >> that was the -- the concrete post is how i actually -- once i sort of saw what was happening, overcame the shock of it, i ducked behind that post very, very quickly. and i also laid down on the ground once he began coming around continuing to shoot.

    >> so did he literally come around the post where you were lying?

    >> he came by it, behind it. he didn't come towards me, but he came by it.

    >> and then at some point, i guess when he was changing the magazine on that weapon, he was jumped by some people and then you also grabbed on to him. had you -- is that correct?

    >> yes.

    >> had you not -- -- had you not done that, i think you also grabbed on to his waist to keep him down. if you hadn't done that, do you think he would have releoaded the gun and kept going?

    >> i do think he would have kept going. he was very cold bloodedly just doing this.

    >> joe you were at a walgreens getting a pack of cigarettes, you had gone out to breakfast with your mom. you heard the shots fired, you own guns and you know the sound of gunshots yourself. instead of running away from the area, you ran toward it, why?

    >> i didn't think about it, i just heard something and i thought maybe i could help and i tried to react as bests as i could as fast as i could. i came running.

    >> and when you got to the scene, it wasn't that far away , what did you see? can you describe it?

    >> i saw three or four individuals wrestling with him, trying to, you know, control them and subdue them. i just assisted. i'm a pretty big guy so i put my weight in there and, you know, made sure he wasn't going anywhere.

    >> did he say anything, joe?

    >> the only thing i heard him say was about his arm, you know, ow, ow, you're hurting me, you're breaking my arm or something. we were all laying on him. i mean he wasn't going anywhere. i'm sure it wasn't comfortable. but it's not really my problem, you know?

    >> absolutely. did you have an impression of him looking at him?

    >> i felt like he was very cold. his expression was -- it was almost a smirk, he seemed to look like it doesn't matter. the woman there was saying things like, how could you? i don't believe what you did. this is so horrible. and it didn't even seem to register.

    >> you know, it's been almost 48 hours since the shooting, guys, has it registered with you two at all? can you make any sense of this dr. rayle ?

    >> i don't make any sense of it. it's very disturbing and i really am feeling for the poor souls who were shot and killed and injured. it's sinking in more today than it has in the past few days where i think i was more in shock from it.

    >> this morning was horrible.

    >> yeah, this morning was horrible waking up to realize this was real and everything still going on and all these people are hurting and all these lives are destroyed and all the collateral damage, all the families, all the people who weren't even there whose whole world was shaken up and it's just a who rhorrible thing that happened.

    >> it certainly is a tragedy and it could have been worse had you gentlemen not responded the way you did. thank you so much.

Photos: Former Ariz. Representative Gabrielle Giffords

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  1. Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who was shot and left handicapped after a gunman opened fire at an event in Tucson, Ariz., and her husband retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly prepare to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 2013. (Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, leave the Newtown Municipal Building in Newtown, Conn. on Jan. 4, 2013. Giffords met with Newtown officials on Friday afternoon before heading to visit with families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. (Michelle Mcloughlin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Gabrielle Giffords waves to the Space Shuttle Endeavor with her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly as it flies over Tucson, Ariz. on its way to Los Angeles, on Sept. 20, 2012. Kelly served as Endeavour's last space commander months after Giffords survived serious head injuries because of a 2011 shooting. (P.K. Weis / Southwest Photo Bank via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gabrielle Giffords blows a kiss after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. on Sept. 6, 2012. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Gabrielle Giffords stands on top of a peak in the French Alps with her husband Mark Kelly, right,, and mountain guide Vincent Lameyre, July 23, 2012. On her first trip out of the country since her injury in 2011, she rode a two-stage cable car to a station for spectacular views of Mont Blanc. (Denis Balibouse / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Ron Barber, right, celebrates his victory with Giffords, left, prior to speaking to supporters at a post election event, Tuesday, June 12, 2012, in Tucson, Ariz. Barber, Giffords' former district director, won her seat in a special election after she resigned to focus on her recovery. (Ross D. Franklin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Democratic Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, read Rep. Gabriell Giffords resignation speech on the House floor on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012. The day after President Obama's State of the Union speech, Giffords formally offered her resignation to Speaker John Boehner. Weeping, Shultz applauded the strength of her friend and colleague, "I'm so proud of my friend." (MSNBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. President Barack Obama hugs retiring Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as the president arrives to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., left, and Pelosi, right, posing with Giffords husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly of the Navy, at his retirement ceremony with Vice President Joe Biden in the Old Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011. (House Leader Nancy Pelosi's office / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returns to the House for the first time since she was shot, making a dramatic entrance on Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, during a crucial debt vote. She drew loud applause and cheers from surprised colleagues. (NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords poses for a photo the day after the launch of NASA space shuttle Endeavour and the day before she had her cranioplasty surgery, outside TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital May 17, in Houston, Texas. Aides of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords posted two recent photos of the congresswoman to her public Facebook page, the first since the January 8 shooting that killed six people and wounded a dozen others. (P.K. Weis / Giffords Campaign / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Emergency workers use a stretcher to move Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head outside a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011. (James Palka / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. In this Jan. 5, 2011 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner re-enacts the swearing in of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Susan Walsh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Rep. Giffords, left, speaks during a candidates debate with Republican candidate Jesse Kelly at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz., on Oct. 18, 2010. Kelly is an Iraq War veteran and was the Tea Party favorite for the 8th congressional district seat. (Joshua Lott / The New York Times via Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords meets with constituents in Douglas, Ariz., in 2010. Giffords, 40, took office in January 2007, emphasizing issues such as immigration reform, embryonic stem-cell research, alternative energy sources and a higher minimum wage. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Rep. Giffords speaks during a press conference in Washington, D.C., where members of Congress called on the President to secure the border with the National Guard on April 28, 2010. (James Berglie / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. This picture provided by the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Monday, March 22, 2010, shows damage to her office in Tucson, Ariz. The congressional office was vandalized a few hours after the House vote overhauling the nation's health care system. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., center, gives a tour of Statuary Hall in the Capitol to Shuttle Discovery STS-124 astronauts Mission Specialist Akihiko Hoshide, of Japan, and her husband, Commander Mark Kelly, on Thursday, July 17, 2008. (Bill Clark / Roll Call Photos) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. From right. Rep. Ken Calvert, Rep. Dennis Moore, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and Rep. Heath Shuler, attend a House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security hearing on current and proposed employment eligibility verification systems on May 6, 2008. The hearing provided a forum for lawmakers on both sides of the immigration debate, focusing on a system to verify the legal status of workers and job applicants. (Scott J. Ferrell) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Gabrielle Giffords with U.S. Navy Cmdr. Mark Kelly, a NASA astronaut, at their wedding in Amado, Ariz., on Nov. 10, 2007. Kelly's twin brother, also an astronaut, is a commander on the International Space Station. "We have a unique vantage point here aboard the International Space Station. As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not," said Scott Kelly of the tragedy that befell his sister-in-law. (Norma Jean Gargasz for The New York Times / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Representatives-elect including Dean Heller, top right, and Gabrielle Giffords, next to Heller, prepare for the freshman class picture for the 110th Congress on the House Steps on Nov. 14, 2006. (Tom Williams / Roll Call Photos) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords rides horseback in 2006. In an interview with NPR last year, she recalled working with horses during her adolescence in Tucson. "I loved cleaning out the stalls, and I did that in exchange for riding lessons. And I continue to ride most of my life. And I learned a lot from horses and the stable people ... I think it provided good training, all of that manure-shoveling, for my days in politics ahead." (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A page entitled, "Just do it!" in La Semeuse, the Scripps College yearbook in 1993. The photo at right shows Giffords in traditional Mennonite clothing. That same year, she won a Fulbright award to study Mennonites and other Anabaptist groups in Northern Mexico. Gifford's senior thesis was titled "Wish Books and Felt-Tipped Fantasies: The Sociology of Old Colony Mennonite Drawings." (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Gabrielle Giffords' senior portrait from the 1993 Scripps College yearbook. Giffords double-majored in Latin American studies and sociology. A Dean's List student, Gifford won several awards during her time at Scripps. (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Gabrielle Giffords, right, laughs with her mom, Gloria Kay Fraser Giffords, in a photo published in the Scripps College yearbook. Gabrielle received a B.A. in Sociology and Latin American history from Scripps College in Claremont, Calif. in 1993. (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. University High School portrait of Gabrielle Giffords, class of 1988. Dr. John Hosmer, taught history to the future lawmaker. He tells msnbc.com, "Gabrielle sat in the front row. She was inquisitive ... She was a very mature person from the moment she walked in the door." (University High School) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: US Senate holds hearing on Gun Control
    Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA
    Above: Slideshow (26) Former Ariz. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
  2. Image:
    Morry Gash / AP
    Slideshow (45) Mourning follows deadly shooting in Arizona

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