Thin Line: ‘Good/Bad Guy with a Gun’

Exclusive: For years as a police officer and Navy reservist, Christopher Dorner was what the NRA would call “a good guy with a gun,” but something snapped when he was fired from the LAPD, transforming him into “a bad guy with a gun,” an important new argument for gun control, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The tragic case of Christopher Dorner, who allegedly killed four people before dying of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot to the head during a fiery standoff in California last week, underscores the central fallacy of the National Rifle Association’s idea about arming “good guys” with guns to kill “bad guys” with guns.

One obvious problem with the NRA argument is that “good guys” can very quickly become “bad guys.” Dorner, a former Los Angeles police officer and Navy reservist, experienced what he considered racist injustice at the hands of his police superiors – and that seems to have driven him into a vengeful rampage.

Disgruntled former Los Angeles policeman and accused mass shooter Christopher Dorner in his Navy uniform.

Indeed, most shooting deaths in the United States involve ordinary people who would pass a background check and thus obtain a gun legally. It is only after some event sets them off – some grievance, some failed romance, some flash of temper, some perceived threat – that they use a gun to kill another person (or to take their own life).

While ending loopholes in background checks clearly makes sense, it is not so easy to define when a person’s mental illness is severe enough to disqualify him or her from acquiring a gun. Nor is it easy to know when an intervention is necessary to disarm someone. Even how to disarm a person is a challenging and potentially dangerous issue that could touch off violence rather than prevent it.

Adam Lanza, the troubled young man who killed his mother and 26 others (including 20 first-graders) in Newtown, Connecticut, used his mother’s legally purchased AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle to carry out the murders, first shooting his sleeping mother in the face before heading to Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lanza’s mother presumably misunderstood how serious her son’s mental instability had become.

For many years, American shooting rampages were known as “going postal” because some earlier mass killings were committed by postal workers who snapped under the time pressures of their work environment. Presumably, these postal workers were “good guys” until they suddenly became “bad guys.”

In Dorner’s case, his work grievances accumulated over time, after he reported what he claimed was excessive violence used by one of his police superiors. However, an internal police investigation sided with Dorner’s superior and deemed Dorner a liar who was then dismissed from the force.

Dorner’s dismissal sent his life into a downward spiral, finally leading to the shooting spree which ended last Tuesday in the mountains above Los Angeles. Dorner, 33, was cornered in a cabin before apparently shooting himself as the cabin burned, police said. Dorner’s charred remains were pulled from the wreckage.

An Anti-Gun Manifesto

Ironically, even as Dorner armed himself, he condemned the ease with which he obtained powerful weapons, including semi-automatic assault rifles that could be converted into fully automatic weapons. In a 6,000-word manifesto recounting his grievances – and condemning the LAPD as racist – Dorner also praised legislative proposals to restrict access to guns.

“The time is now to reinstitute a [weapons] ban that will save lives,” Dorner wrote. “Why does any sportsman need a 30 round magazine for hunting? Why does anyone need a suppressor? Why does anyone need a AR15 rifle? This is the same small arms weapons system utilized in eradicating Al Qaeda, Taliban, and every enemy combatant since the Vietnam war. …

“These do not need to be purchased as easily as walking to your local Walmart or striking the enter key on your keyboard to ‘add to cart’. All the firearms utilized in my activities are registered to me and were legally purchased at gun stores and private party transfers. …

“No more Virginia Tech, Columbine HS, Wisconsin temple, Aurora theatre, Portland malls, Tucson rally, Newtown Sandy Hook. Whether by executive order or thru a bi-partisan congress an assault weapons ban needs to be re-instituted. Period!!! Mia Farrow said it best. ‘Gun control is no longer debatable, it’s not a conversation, its a moral mandate.’”

Despite the obvious contradictions between Dorner’s opinions and his actions, the final days of his life underscored why many of the more modest proposals to reduce gun violence would fail to achieve the sort of public safety that could begin to make shooting deaths much less common.

While requiring background checks and expanding mental health care surely make sense, a strategy that doesn’t restrict the sale of assault weapons and high-quantity magazines would just as surely guarantee many more massacres in the future.

Further, the Dorner case exposes the nuttiness behind the declaration by NRA executive Wayne LaPierre that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” — and his suggestion that school personnel should be armed to fend off the next Adam Lanza.

As the example of ex-police officer Dorner demonstrated, the only thing between a good guy with a gun becoming a bad guy with a gun is some extreme experience of anger, disappointment or desperation. So, arming up the U.S. population – instead of beginning a process of de-escalation – only assures more senseless killings.

Putting more guns in the hands of teachers, principals, janitors or even police guards at schools simply multiplies the chances for the next Christopher Dorner to snap.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

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16 comments on “Thin Line: ‘Good/Bad Guy with a Gun’

  1. Robert Locke on said:

    I would like to add that the bloody preparations for murder that our military prides itself on teaching its combat troops contributes to the “good guy/bad guy” dichotomy. When we teach a person to murder (in war or at home) we run the risk of that murderer coming after us all. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder indeed.

    We should not be so eager to make war and teach our young people how to kill. That is obvious, but also a futile argument in the face of a hostile, bellicose citizenry.

  2. Robert Parry is so accurate in his facts, details, and overview on gun ownership. His points are well taken considering the emotions that can control anyone and especially those who have access to a gun or gun “stronghold” if the law allows more aggressive types of weapons to become available on the open market.

  3. Otto Schiff on said:

    I am afraid that getting rid of some guns will not solve the problem.
    Suppose you get rid of half of all the guns, there will still the one or two
    mad men who will abuse firearms. It only takes one bullet to kill a person.
    Whether it comes from a large or a small magazine. Whether it comes from a semi automatic or a revolver. This country is armed to the teeth. Some problems are beyond solution.

    • diane johnson on said:

      a group of injured workers, frauded out of medical help and pensions or disability coverage by workers compensation insurance companes, decided long ago that “going postal” was the only way out when the medical situation and legal delays and foul play were making justice and human rights or rule of law impossible. Has anyone checked to see if Dorner had filed for such a program? iris

    • jack mc neill on said:

      The good should not be the enemy of the perfect. Getting rid of some the guns may not “solve the problem”, but if it reduces the level of carnage going on now on a daily basis, it’s still a goal worth pursuing. And the focus right now is reducing the mass killings that sap the soul of this nation, and I, for one, will not take “Some problems are beyond solution.” for an answer…

    • You want to know why some problems are beyong solution? Because people think they are. Imagine if you actually believed that getting rid of the guns would solve the problem. After all, it would. Guns kill people, take away the gun, less people will be killed. There will still be other methods to kill, but making it harder for a murderer is our jobs as human beings. Improving gun laws is not enough, accepting that people will kill is not enough, DOING something is enough. It only takes one bullet to kill a person, true. But it only takes one person to change something big. Make your opinion count. If you want to make the world a better place, and stop letting people die, don’t accept that guns will kill, and say there’s nothing you can do. CHANGE IT.

  4. jack mc neill on said:

    Actually, the perfect should not be the enemy of the good (that’s what I get for not proofreading)…

  5. ontheres on said:

    Does anyone remember the old black and white western films? Nearly all of them dealt with putting down guns, the good sheriff who dis-armed the town. Guns were popular in western boom towns and contributed to the general lack of law and order. When the towns stabilized, the first thing they did was put down/surrender their guns. All of us growing up in those days understood that guns were violent and promoted violence.

  6. Barbara Hobbie on said:

    Your excerpts from Dorner’s own manifesto comments lay bare the notion that if he hadn’t had ready access to, in his case, an arsenal of guns, the probability of the rampage would have been diminished. The Oscar Pretorius gun killing is another “notch” in the argument. I knew personally three women who were able to commit suicide with certainty. One stepped in front of a speeding train. The other two used their “home safety” handguns. It was not even then a case of magazines or high-powered assault capability. Guns kill quite effectively, just as people with guns kill.

  7. incontinent reader on said:

    Good article, but in the end the police murdered Dorner. They had no interest in capturing him alive and made no effort to do so. Instead, they ordered his death by fire, and that also resonates with those who insist on holding on to their guns, even if their thinking is skewed.

  8. Tim Caffery on said:

    Pardon me, but just because he died doesn’t mean he was convicted. There still hasn’t been ANY evidence that Dorner actually killed anyone. Taking into consideration Pat Tillman’s story, it’s not even a fact his gun fire ever hit ANYONE. While the criminal syndicate within the LAPD, and more generally all law enforcement (race enforcement, in reality), can bask in the legal technicality that since Dorner is dead, he doesn’t need to be convicted (aka proven guilty) its a shame to see this type of news outlet follow suit so easily. The only people who communicated with him, his hostages, quote him saying he needs to clear his name, not settle debts, get revenge, finish them off. Yes, as a cop and soldier, either way he knew that since the call had gone out “cop killer” that that meant EVERY “peace officer” would be gunning for him.
    In fact, my biggest pet peeve with journalist, especially indies like this, is this: when did having something posted on a social media profile establish proof of authorship? “Oh, it was his page, must have been him!” Great work. Look how many grammatical and vocabulary errors are in “his” manifesto. If he wrote reports like that and I was his boss, I would tell him to take a class.
    I suggest the editors consider, seriously, what role they are functioning as in condemning a dead man. Like the neighborhood the fiances were shot is cameraless? His guns are missing? “Probably” stashed all over (LAPD propaganda). More like, cops stole them as trophies, or tools for future criminal activities (since we KNOW that getting away with this only emboldens the Racist Syndicate). Muckrake, don’t just mop muck all over the place. Forth Estate this story, please. Thoreauvian style (read: Walking). PLEASE?

  9. cynicann on said:

    Banning assault weapons, magazines that hold 30+ bullets are a beginning and more attention to mental health are only a placebo if some people- radio/TV hosts, folks in the pulpits, legislators at all levels, people in the public domain continue to spew vitriolic, hateful, fear mongering bigotry that’s been going on for far too long, and that we, as Americans, have allowed it to happen, even embraced it.
    We have freedom of speech, but using that opportunity to target certain groups, individuals, beliefs, activities as dangerous, unacceptable, bad, unworthy, etc., is to make them a target for people who are already stressed, under pressure, unstable for any number of reasons to take a gun and start shooting.
    Then there’s the paramilitary training many police departments across the country have been receiving to handle the “crowds” that gather to protest, make a point, and the consequent proliferation of police “events” where departments and individuals are accused of misconduct, beatings, abuse, even deaths of people in their custody.
    Add to that the thousands of service people returning from multiple tours in war-torn countries, where they constantly feared for their lives- who now struggle to re-acclimate to a more peaceful environment, a different life.
    We reap what we sow, and, in many cases, what was sown was ugly, hateful, fearful, unfair, untruthful, and demeaning, and it’s what we will reap until we are willing to see that some structural changes are made.

    • Johnny Alamo on said:

      There is now an effective economic “ban” on AR-15 style rifles, ammo, and high capacity magazines. So-called “Black Rifles” which cost $600 before the Obama re-election now sell for twice that; the better name-brand quality AR’s sell for $1800, $2000 and up. Similar huge price increases have occurred with the ammo and hi-cap magazines for assault rifles. Except for shotgun shells, connoisseur calibers, and some useless specialty ammo, there is almost no ammo to be found for sale anywhere in America – except at gun shows. The ammo supply may be changing, however. I was at an internet/storefront retailer who had a full supply of all types of .45 ACP handgun ammo, and a small supply of black rifle ammo. For us target shooters and plinkers who shoot .22LR? Nothing, not one round anywhere in the US. Even the small quantities of .22LR for sale at gun shows are priced at 2.5 – 4 times the pre-election cost. I saw one report that manufacturers of ammo and black rifles are at full capacity and/or expanding; catching up to this public run on ammo may take 9 months. Certainly this hoarding of ammo shows America’s love of guns as much as anything. It is also telling that assault rifles, named proudly as assault rifles for fifty years, are now being called Modern Sporting Rifles, totally overlooking their dating back to the 1960s – it’s like calling The Beatles hit song I Wanna Hold Your Hand as “Modern Rock Music.” PS I have many, many friends at the gun range who own black rifles. None of them – not one – has ever used that rifle for hunting, though some take target practice and others are involved in target competitions. Mostly it’s about bragging rights “see my costly new name-brand sights, my name brand barrel, rail, flash suppressor, trigger, etc. Since none of my friends are in any shape to join a well-regulated militia (they couldn’t carry a rifle and pack a mile without a heart attack) I wonder why they even mention their so-called second amendment rights. I blame the NRA for the runs on guns and ammo- twice they have ginned up huge fears of Obama, at his first election and his second. The record shows that as president Obama will not spend any political capital on gun control – even after Newtown forced his hand, he punted the issue to the veep and congress.