Imagine yourself in a shopping mall when gunfire erupts nearby, people running and screaming all around. Twenty yards ahead, you see a man raising a pistol as he strides boldly toward a store entrance. What do you do?
Would your heart be pounding inside your chest? Would your hands shake as you fumbled to chamber a round?
The man begins firing. Is he the gunman? Or plain-clothes security? Off-duty police? How do you know? In the chaotic heat of the moment, would these questions enter your mind?
As you consider this scenario now, do you assume that your brain would be processing information so calmly?
You hold fire and run forward to discover that he is the gunman, peppering shots around the store's interior. You raise your weapon and fire.
Now imagine that another armed citizen has just rounded a corner to witness this. How reliable is his judgment?
On Jan. 8, 2011, Joseph Zamudio emerged from a Tucson store, his hand grasping his concealed pistol. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others had just been shot in the parking lot of the crowded strip mall. Zamudio quickly spotted a man at the perimeter of a violent struggle, pistol in hand.
In an interview with MSNBC's Ed Schultz, Zamudio admitted, "If they hadn't grabbed him and he'd been still moving, I would have shot him I would have shot the man holding the gun."
The man holding the gun had just disarmed the real shooter, Jared Lee Loughner. In another interview on Fox News, Zamudio confessed, "I made a lot of really big decisions really fast. ... I was really lucky."
Maybe the better question isn't about judgment. Maybe it's about luck. When it comes to average citizens carrying concealed weapons, maybe the truth behind Dirty Harry's famous question applies as much to the person holding the weapon as it does to the person staring down the business end of the barrel: "Do you feel lucky?"
In a locally familiar incident, Reginald Campos shot fellow Bluffdale resident David Serbeck on July 22, 2010. Both claimed to be armed that evening in response to illegal activity.
Serbeck survived, but is paralyzed from the waist down, and Campos is now serving three years to life for attempted murder. An unlucky night for both parties.
Lucky or not, the problems associated with making instantaneous decisions in a highly-charged and unfamiliar situation are obvious. So another question arises: why would anyone with no real need want to carry a concealed weapon?
More specifically, to the concealed carry crowd: Have you ever, even once, drawn your weapon in public for any purpose other than to show off your handsome piece? When you do show your gun to your friends, does your chest swell with pride? Just a little? If so, what is that all about? Could it be that your professed need has nothing to do with necessity at all? That you have misrepresented your true desires, perhaps even to yourself? I ask you again: how reliable is your judgment?
Robert Hammer is an honor graduate of the U.S. Marine Corps Infantry Training School, 1986, and is a gun owner who keeps his firearms secured at home.