When Kapelsohn watched the news from Newtown, part of what he thought about was the ways in which school shootings usually end. “Once the first cop on the scene has fired his weapon,” he said, “the shooting is usually over—the guy is shot by the cops, or he commits suicide.” The cops are often too late. Once the shooter came through the door, Kapelsohn said, the source and terms of his insanity no longer mattered. The only thing that mattered was how quickly somebody could shoot him. “There is a saying,” Kapelsohn explained. “911: When seconds count, help is only minutes away.”
Kapelsohn has spent the better part of his adult life training policemen and is himself a part-time deputy sheriff, and he has come to see the world as they do: as a physical map of violence. As we drove through rural Pennsylvania in his Toyota pickup truck, he kept up an elliptical monologue, pointing out all the places where violence had erupted or nearly had. Every convenience store seemed to conjure the memory of an armed robbery. Just a few evenings before, he said, he had to reach for his handgun after an intoxicated driver crashed into the flagpole outside Kapelsohn’s office; Kapelsohn could see he was carrying a knife. We passed a spot where a canine officer with the Berks County sheriff’s office had been shot and killed while trying to serve a warrant by a troubled young man who, having been kicked out of the family house, had been living in a tent. It was possible to ignore this world, he said. But that was to ignore reality. “There are predators out there,” Kapelsohn said, “just like there are predators in the jungle.”
Kapelsohn is 60, stocky and mustached and Jewish, and has enough of a sense of humor to put an image of himself on one of the paper targets he uses to teach. He rowed heavyweight crew at Yale, and considers his work with shooting a form of martial arts, a way of perfecting the muscle mechanics of a more deadly shot. “I’m not a redneck,” he told me pointedly, and I came to think that in his conversations with me, he was actually conducting a coded argument with an alternate version of himself, the lawyer who hadn’t left New York behind, making the case that to be alert to violence, to be armed at all times, was not abhorrent to civilization but a necessary condition for it.
To carry a gun makes you conscious of your own lethality, and this can inspire an urge to protect. When he teaches college students, Kapelsohn will pull some aside and make sure they have planned what to do if a shooter comes through the door. At high-school basketball games, he will corner the sheriff and talk to him about the threat of violence. When he goes out to school events with his daughters, he often finds himself thinking tactically about the shape of the room, the size of the crowd, the potential for harm. Once, at an athletic meet at a college nearby, Kapelsohn ran into a cop he knew, off duty, another father. Kapelsohn, who has an eye for concealed carry, couldn’t figure out where the cop had his gun, so he asked him. The cop said he wasn’t carrying. Kapelsohn started in on him. What would happen if a shooter came through that door? Wouldn’t the cop feel responsible? Was he willing to wait for 911 to arrive? “And every time I’ve seen him at a meet since,” Kapelsohn told me happily, “he’s been carrying a gun.”
But the problem of concealed carry isn’t the off-duty cop with a gun. The problem—the problem of the Glock—is what happens when everyone carries one. Matthew Miller of the Harvard School of Public Health has argued that we are not a more violent country than other industrialized nations (our rates of school fights and assaults match those of other well-off countries). But because guns are so plentiful here, we are far more murderous. Our habit of arming ourselves against criminals has outlasted the crime epidemic of the eighties, even though we now know that keeping a firearm in the home, no matter what precautions the owners of that firearm take, makes it more likely that someone living in that house will be murdered with a gun and more likely that someone living in the house will kill themselves with a gun.
In the eighties, there was a rudimentary training device called the Duelatron, which was a sort of two-sided metal frame; on one side was a drawing of a Good Guy, doing some harmless thing like carrying a bag of groceries, and on the other side there was a Bad Guy, carrying a weapon. You would draw your gun, the trainer would flip a switch, and either the Good Guy or the Bad Guy would display, and you’d have to recognize him in an instant and decide whether to shoot. To carry a handgun in public is to think of the world in these terms, always alert to the potential Bad Guy, sorting every crowd into innocents and threats.