The only solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
So said Wayne LaPierre, smug vice president of the National Rifle Association, in the wake of last year’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. In that monstrous crime, a madman armed with an assault rifle slaughtered 20 students and six staff members.
Last week, a courageous, wise bookkeeper proved LaPierre wrong. It wasn’t a “good guy with a gun” that stopped the would-be shooter at a school near Atlanta. What stopped him was a vast reservoir of concern, kindness, empathy and level-headed common sense coming from a remarkable woman whose name is Antoinette Tuff.
A phenomenal example of exquisite grace under pressure, Tuff succeeded in calmly, rationally and kindly talking the 20-year-old mentally ill school intruder into surrendering to police. The taped transcript of her talking to the gunman is nothing less than astonishing, especially considering the fact she knew she could have been blown away any second. Tuff is, indeed, a rare and true hero.
What’s most impressive is some law-enforcement officials go through intensive training to “talk down” hostage takers and other unstable people in crises. Tuff did it apparently by a deep-seated genuine human instinct. She came across as a stern but loving mama to the young man.
“Baby, everything’s gonna be OK,” she said with such sweet conviction.
Later, Tuff acknowledged being petrified with fear inside but that faith in God and lessons she learned about reaching out and connecting with the less fortunate came to the forefront during that tense time. Tuff even shared with the armed man tragedies from her own life: her husband leaving her, her decision at one time to commit suicide and the sorrows of having a child with multiple disabilities. It was a magnificent example of a human being, a survivor of pain and disappointment herself, connecting on a gut level with another human being in deep hurt. It’s so appropriate Tuff’s name rhymes with “tough” because her connection to the would-be killer was a perfect example of the power of “tough love.”
That woman deserves all of the bouquets of praise coming her way, including that personal congratulatory phone call from President Obama. We should all learn from her masterful, deeply human response to a crisis.
However, it’s too much to hope there will be an Antoinette Tuff on hand the next time a deranged shooter enters a school. And even if there is someone of that extraordinary quality present, chances are sadly all too possible she would be blown away by the madman.
All of the wonderfully positive news about Antoinette Tuff has obscured a very big question. I’m still trying to determine through media reports where that 20-year-old would-be killer managed to get his hands on an AK-47 rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition. We have heard almost nothing about him, his background or his motivations – at least not at the point I’m writing this column, nearly two weeks after that incident.
The horror that Tuff prevented in that school is, once again, frightening to think about. But, predictably, once again, it reminds us how we flunked the course last time, in the months after the killings at Sandy Hook when gun lobbyists and their minions in Congress defeated proposed gun-safety laws.
This Georgia incident was a frightening close call. It should boost the passionate determination of good Americans fighting for gun-safety laws, including the still-grieving parents of the children butchered at Sandy Hook. Gun safety, sadly, is not a headline issue lately. It soon will be, and this time around, thanks to so much hard work and ongoing networking by gun-safety advocates, laws will eventually be passed requiring universal background checks, a boost in mental-health treatments and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammo clips.
It’s time to open the eyes of the willfully blind Wayne LaPierre. Let’s tell that rhetorical gunslinger that one of the best ways to prevent gun violence is not a shoot-’em-up but a civilized combination of the insightful connective compassion of people like Antoinette Tuff combined with the long overdue legislation that will keep such assault weapons and ammo out of the hands of unstable people.