WASHINGTON - So much for the argument that having more people armed in public places will result in fewer gun deaths.
One of the three killed recently by a Las Vegas couple, Jerad and Amanda Miller, was an armed civilian, Joseph Wilcox. Two police officers who were also killed, Igor Soldo and Alyn Beck, were ambushed while having lunch. Seated in a booth, they had no chance to defend themselves, according to witnesses.
Wilcox, 31, was inside the Wal-Mart store when the Millers entered firing and ordering everyone to evacuate. Wilcox, who carried a gun, decided to confront the shooter, apparently unaware that Amanda was with Jerad. After he walked past her on his approach toward Jerad, Amanda fatally shot him.
During an ensuing gunfight with police, Amanda turned her gun on her husband and then herself. Whether they might have killed others had Wilcox not stepped forward - a decidedly brave if ill-advised maneuver - we can't know. What we do know is that a civilian, perhaps emboldened to heroism because he had a gun, is dead.
Even as we honor Wilcox appropriately, his death should give pause to any who insist that having more armed citizens is the best defense against a would-be killer. Even if one person were to stop a killer in his tracks, it is not logical to extrapolate the occasional success story as proof of the argument.
It may also be unfair to extrapolate that one failure means that having guns in civilian pockets can't ever be helpful. Having an experienced, well-trained person armed with a gun in the right place at the right time might well thwart a slaughter, though inarguably, not everyone with a permit to carry meets those qualifications. Recall that the would-be hero in Tucson, Ariz. - when Rep. Gabby Giffords and others were shot - was an armed young man who almost shot the wrong person.
Joe Zamudio unlocked the safety on the gun in his pocket, rounded the corner prepared to shoot, when he saw a man holding a gun.
Thinking he was the shooter, Zamudio was seconds from shooting when he decided to slam the man into a wall rather than draw his gun, in part because he feared being mistaken as the shooter himself. It turns out that the man was holding the gun he had just wrested from the killer.
"I was very lucky," said Zamudio of his split-second decision. As for his training? He grew up around his father's guns.
To be effective with a gun in a crisis situation requires not just instinct but training. Police officers and military forces go through extensive instruction for good reason. It isn't enough to knock a few beer cans off a fencepost or to accurately line up a deer in a rifle sight. Though Zamudio made the right call, he came close to being a coldblooded killer himself.
The fact is, permission to carry also grants implicit permission to use the gun as one deems necessary. Essentially, we've deputized thousands of private citizens without training them. Taking a shooting class at the local firing range may improve your reflexes and aim, but it doesn't prepare you for the adrenaline-fueled intensity of real-time, close-range combat, which is what the Wal-Mart encounter and Tucson events essentially were.
In both instances, moreover, the perpetrators were deranged and/or delusional. The Millers were so over-the-top anti-government that they were tossed off the ranch of Cliven Bundy, the cattle rancher who staged an armed stand-off with government agents. There's anti-government - and then there's crazy.
What does the average gun owner know about the minds of domestic terrorists?
The Millers were fighting for freedom, they said.
Would this include the freedom that allowed them to own guns in the first place?
But no. Freedom is for sound minds and adult dispositions. We can't weed out all the rebels looking for a cause. Nor do we delude ourselves that any but law-abiding citizens will play by the rules or that criminals will come around to lawfulness.
But we can try not to become weirder - and more dangerous - ourselves.
The sensible case isn't that we need to ban guns, as some reflexively would argue. It is that we require reasonable scrutiny of those who wish to own guns, especially to conceal-carry, and require serious training of those who possess them. Even this may be viewed by some as stepping on our Second Amendment rights, but this is an argument without a satisfactory resolution.
What say we hold our fire and give sanity a shot?
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.