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Tucson's unsung hero ran to the gunfire

You’re standing at the checkout counter of your neighborhood drugstore when you hear gunshots and screaming right outside. What do you do?

For Joe Zamudio the answer was to run toward the sound of gunfire.

Zamudio was among the first responders to the shooting rampage which severely wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and left a federal judge, a 9-year-old girl, and 5 others dead and a dozen more wounded. Zamudio was also the only responsible citizen in the vicinity of the shooting who was legally armed, but as events unfolded, Zamudio’s gun proved unnecessary beyond bolstering his confidence and his sense of duty.

In the brief seconds it took for Joe to get from the door of Walgreens to the scene of the carnage, other first responders – victims trapped in the kill zone – recognized an opportunity when the murderer paused to change magazines in the Glock 19 he was shooting and managed to wrestle the gun away from him.

As Zamudio arrived, an older man was holding the empty gun and yelling at the murderer who had been tackled to the ground by other bystanders. In that moment of confusion Zamudio saw that the gun wasn’t loaded so, assuming the older man was the attacker, he grabbed his gun hand, forcing him to drop the Glock on the ground. That mistake was quickly rectified by other bystanders, and Zamudio turned his attention to the young man being held on the ground, relieving a woman who was having difficulty restraining the murderer and helping to hold the killer for police – the second responders.

On that day there were several heroes; people who demonstrated extraordinary courage and superior instincts as the mayhem broke loose. One of Rep. Giffords’ aids instinctively ran to her assistance, in spite of the gunfire, and began administering basic first aid, which probably saved her life.

A woman who had been wounded and had enough familiarity with firearms to realize that the killer’s gun was useless during the moments he was trying to change magazines, reached out and grabbed at the new magazine, keeping the killer from reloading.

Two men who were close by recognized that the gun was out of commission and rushed the murderer, wrestled the gun from him and took him to the ground.

And Joe Zamudio, who was safely outside the killing ground, rushed to the sound of the gunfire in order to help his fellow citizens.

Zamudio’s role in the tragedy was downplayed or ignored by most of the media. He candidly admitted that he could have made a mistake and shot the first man he saw with the gun. The anti-rights lobby and hoplophobic media latched onto that clear-eyed assessment and focused on how tragic such a mistake would have been. The media carefully ignored the fact that Zamudio, a young man with no formal firearms or combat training, had responded perfectly in everything he did and had avoided making a terrible situation any worse. The fact is, Zamudio performed better than many police officers – the only ones the anti-rights crowd thinks should have guns – have in similar situations.

Zamudio never drew his gun, so as not to be confused as a second attacker, and he immediately recognized the unloaded condition of the Glock and that deadly force was unnecessary.

Zamudio expressed relief that he did not have to shoot anyone and regret that he was not in a position to have shot the murderer and saved some lives.

The attitude of Joe Zamudio toward his fellow human beings is something that really stands out and was missed by virtually everyone in the media. Zamudio repeatedly expressed his personal conviction that it was his duty to help those around him regardless of the danger such help might represent to him personally. While his attitude is not uncommon among gun owners, particularly those who accept the responsibility of routinely going armed, it is apparently unusual among the rest of the general public.

People who believe they have an obligation to assist others tend not to realize that it is an uncommon conviction. They tend to assume that most people recognize the same sense of duty.

The fact is that only a small percentage of the population even considers the possibility of aiding others in the face of serious violence, and a good portion of those who have given such a possibility serious consideration take the next logical step of being prepared for such an emergency by keeping the tools they might need close to hand.

Personal defense trainers refer to this phenomenon in terms of sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. While most of the populace are defenseless sheep, there are a few who are predators – wolves – who prey on the sheep, and a few others who have a strong protective instinct and are moved to guard and protect the sheep – the sheepdogs.

Many of those with sheepdog inclinations are drawn to the military and law enforcement, but a lot of them, like Joe Zamudio, just go about their normal lives a little more alert and a lot more prepared. Their presence in our society makes us all safer and more secure.

Criminals will always find a way to do what criminals do. Those who think the government can change that live under a delusion. As Joe put it, “They act like the government can control this. It’s not about the government. It’s about people failing each other.”

Let’s all be thankful that there are people like Joe Zamudio who are willing to accept the responsibility of being prepared and committed to not failing the rest of us.