Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson soured a few stomachs last week when he suggested that the victims of the Oregon mass shooting were complicit in their own misfortune. In other words, they should have rushed the shooter rather than submit to being massacred.
“I would not just stand there and let him shoot me,” Carson said during an appearance on Fox & Friends. “I would say ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.” Of course, this assumes that he would have had enough time to utter so many words without being killed.
Carson is not entirely wrong. We are fast approaching a time when having the will to fight back may be essential to surviving an attack or averting much larger bloodshed. Everyone admires the heroism of the three Americans who tackled an armed terrorist on a train in France. We won’t forget the bravery of the passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001.
But Carson fails to realize that being right and being useful are two different things. He may have spoken truth on this matter, but his comments were so insensitive, so ill-timed and so unnecessary that they ultimately lack value. In a moment of despair, when families are mourning loved ones, an outsider’s cold-hearted appeal to rationality is most inappropriate. A true representative of the people would know that.
Carson’s consistent problem is not that he can’t distinguish between right and wrong. It’s that he apparently doesn’t know when to be right and when to shut up. As a candidate he prides himself on not being politically correct. Fair enough. But this is no excuse for being crass. If he needed to say anything, he should have expressed support for the victims and their families, not preempt calls for gun control by slyly offering rushing the shooter as an alternative.
None but the victims can comprehend the shock of being confronted by a deranged gunman and the paralyzing clamor of a semi-automatic’s discharge. Until forced to wager against one’s own death, who can say what one’s reaction would be? Without having experienced it, it is impossible to know. Therefore, Carson’s comments would have been far more edifying had he been expounding on his own valiance in a similar situation instead of hypothesizing about the brazen courage he himself would have displayed in that Oregon classroom.
Individuals under duress react in different ways. Some undoubtedly tried to flee. One young woman played dead. No doubt some of them even calculated the risks of fighting back. If nothing else, we can be sure that all of the victims did what their survival instincts urged them to do at the time. For that, they should be extolled as heroes. They should be afforded our compassion. Their families need our support. They do not need some second-guesser’s cynical remarks.
Lecturing the innocent in the wake of tragedy is mockery. It is disrespectful. Like all of us, he should pray he is never forced to practice the bravery about which he hypothesizes.
Eddie Mark is a doctoral candidate in educational leadership and policy at the University of Toronto.