On Tuesday, Ben Carson said he would react to a mass shooting like the one in Oregon by attacking the gunman: "I would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, 'Hey, guys, everybody attack him! He may shoot me, but he can't get us all.'" Until now, there didn't seem to be a way to verify the Republican presidential candidate's claim. Would he really react that way in such a tense situation?
On Wednesday, Carson told SiriusXM radio host Karen Hunter that he had been held at gunpoint before. But in his telling, he did not react as he said he would, and he definitely did not attack the gunman:
I have had a gun held on me when I was in a Popeyes [in Baltimore]. … A guy comes in, puts the gun in my ribs, and I just said, "I believe that you want the guy behind the counter." … He said, "Oh, okay."
Twitter quickly mocked the anecdote, noting that Carson's story suggests he put someone else's life in danger to protect himself.
BEN CARSON AT THE OREGON SHOOTING: "I believe you want the principal."— Drew Magary (@drewmagary) October 8, 2015
@drewmagary Ben Carson at Ford's Theater: "HE'S the President Mr. Booth"— Steak Knives (@Josh1938) October 8, 2015
The broader point is that nobody knows how they would react in this kind of scenario. As Franci Crepeau-Hobson, a University of Colorado Denver psychology professor, told the New Republic, "When you are in a life or death situation, sometimes your autonomic nervous system takes over and you may not behave the way you thought you would. … There are some factors that might make someone more likely to freeze versus run versus perhaps fight back, but it's not a real straightforward generalization that you can make."
So people like Carson can think up all sorts of fantasies about how they'd react if held at gunpoint, but they can't know for sure if that's how they would act under pressure. And suggesting that the victims of the Oregon shooting somehow reacted poorly — as Carson did — comes off as victim blaming.
What's worse, someone did try to fight the Oregon shooter — and it didn't work out, as the New York Times's Alan Rappeport reported: "The heavily armed Oregon gunman killed nine people before taking his own life. The fact that an Army veteran who did try to stop him was shot multiple times and remains hospitalized underscores the risks of attacking an armed attacker, as numerous critics pointed out Tuesday."
Then again, if someone, like Carson, doesn't want to discuss the policy solutions to this type of gun violence — like gun control — maybe fantasies are his best talking point.