The Difference

See if you can tell me what the difference is…

Your average, everyday person was walking down the street. Up ahead, the person sees smoke coming from a home. As the person gets closer, they can hear a woman screaming, “Help!” For the sake of argument, let’s assume the person doesn’t have a cell phone. What do you think that average person would do?

A few blocks over, another average, everyday person was walking down the street. As they got closer to a particular house, they heard gunshots and a woman screaming, “Help!” Again, no cell phone. What would that average person do?

Do you think the average person walking by the home on fire would run to help or run away? Do you think the average person that heard the gunshots would run to help or run away?

I’m curious to hear your responses…

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

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27 thoughts on “The Difference

  1. Normal, everyday people tend NOT to want to get involved, but a house fire is perceived as safer. It may be deadly, but it's not likely to be psychotic. More people would run to the fire to help.

    I nominated you for a weblog award (along with Momma Fargo And Graveyard Dog.)

  2. I'd like to think that I'd run towards the sound of a woman in trouble regardless of the circumstances, but going into a house with shots fired would mean I'd definitely have more care about how I do it.

  3. I think most people would run to the fire, but away from the shots, with an exception I'll get to in a moment.

    The difference is that a fire is not malignant; it has no evil intent. It is driven only by the laws of physics and chemistry, and in the minds of most us, fairly predictable. A fire is also an ongoing process. A building with smoke coming out of it may have a long time to burn, and may well have left any number of inhabitants alive and needing help.

    A gunfight, on the other hand, is driven by evil. Someone means the rest of us harm, and will seek out anyone who tries to respond. Besides, once you hear the shots, it's over. It's very difficult to track the location of the fight, and most of us would expect the shooter to be long gone by the time we got there. Finally, most of us, in most areas of the U.S., are unarmed. We know instinctively not to approach a gunfight without a gun.

    The exception is if you are armed. Then, in my mind, you are equipped and possibly trained to be of real use. You have a chance against an armed malefactor, and, in my mind, a positive duty to move to the sound of the guns.

    This is the meaning of the militia spoken of in the Second Amendment, that most law abiding folk should be armed, and trained, to be able to respond instantly to a local disturbance like a gunfight.

    Best will in the world, you cops cannot be everywhere.

    We can. We are, almost by definition, everywhere a crime is worth committing.

    Local jurisdictions that make it hard or impossible for people to be armed tell us, repeatedly, not to fight back, give the bad guy whatever he wants, do whatever we're told. "Don't try to be a hero."

    You want people to be heroes, train them up and give them the tools they need.

    Don't render us defenseless and helpless, tell us to give in, train us to depend on the Boys in Blue, then blame us for not springing forward to help when needed.

  4. The average person around here would try to help in both instances. Even if that meant running toward the sound of gunshots.

    My Ethics prof told my class that one of his colleagues used to pull a sort of prank on them, where he would have someone burst into the classroom and appear to shoot him. Every single time, students jumped up to pursue the assailant. Every time.

  5. Fire: 90% would attempt a rescue*

    Gunshots: 10% would attempt a rescue* (odds go up in more pro-2A areas).

    The difference between the scenarios is with the fire you're dealing with a natural element whereas with the gunshots you're dealing with an unknown 3rd party (assuming common scenarios for simplicity). IE Fire acts within certain parameters; fire cannot be insane, vengeful or angry – a gunman can be any or all of those things, you just don't know.

    It's more complicated than that – but I think it boils down to the number of unknown variables, personal experience and evaluation of survival.

    *rescue meaning either a physical attempt to save the woman or going to a nearby home to enlist more help.

  6. I think most people would help the person possibly trapped in the structure fire, while hiding and calling 911 for the gunshots.

  7. With fire, run to help (even if it's just door to door to find someone who can call 911).

    With gun shots, gtfo of the there and find a phone to call 911.

    Got a concealed carry, but even if it were on me, classes taught me don't get involved if you can avoid it. As they put it "Don't bring more firearms into a deadly situation unless your life is endangered".

    That and self preservation will kick in, sorry person running for help, but I'm not taking a bullet for you.

  8. Oh, misread your post, thought you meant I didn't have a cell phone on me.

    Yeah, if I were to have a cell phone on me.

    Situation 1: Run to help while calling 911 (not running into building but I'm not going to say sorry for your loss either).

    Situation 2: Run and hide and call 911.

  9. People understand fire can only kill you if they get close enough. An idiot with a gun can kill dozens at 100 yards.
    I agree that folks do not intervene enough when firearms are involved but I also understand their hesitance.
    FIRE! draws a crowd, HELP draws dirty looks.

  10. Considering my dad is a Firefighter & EMT, my oldest brother is a Sheriff and I am a Park Ranger.. If I didn't have a cell phone I would at least go to a neighboring house and I'm sure there has to be SOMEONE with some sort of phone to call 911.

    But than again, not everyone has grown up in the world of fire & police.. so I guess it's not common sense?

  11. I'd like to think the average person would run toward a fire (to help) and would run away from gunshots (to get help) since this is what I would do.

    Of course, given our world as it is today, the average person would normally stare dumbly at the fire and ask someone (probably the firefighters when they show up) "Hey… what's going on?"

    That same person would probably ignore gunshots. Or run toward it to see what's going on but without a plan or training. Neither of which would probably be very helpful.

    Can you tell that I'm a little cynical?

  12. In the case of the fire, my response would depend on how bad the fire is. At the very least I'd try to find a neighbor who could call 911. Then I'd help if I could.

    The gunshots? I'd take note of the address if possible, and go find a phone to call the police. I'm a woman, I'm also unarmed, there is no way in heck I'm going to walk into a situation with a screaming woman and a firearm involved.

    I couldn't in good conscience just walk away, but at the same time, I have a family of my own to consider… my kids need their Mama.

  13. I'm with the majority here – run towards a fire, away from gun shots (but look for the first chance to call for assistance either way).

    This is why women are sometimes advised to scream 'Fire!' instead of 'I'm being raped!'. There's no "well, it's not my problem, I shouldn't get involved" with fires.

  14. If it was possible to get a CCW in CA for anyone other than retired judges and politicians or people living in certain counties with 4-digit populations, and if I had a gun on me, I'd head towards the shots to see what the situation is and go from there. Given the current political climate in CA, I'm not sticking my head into a gunfight if all I have is my hands and harsh language.

  15. I believe the average citizen would run towards the burning building to help the person, but would run away from the gun fire. Just my humble opinion.

  16. The fire situation is easy. I would go to help and at the same time call for bigger and better help.
    The gunshot situation I just don't know. I have no experience with firearms and have no idea what my reaction would be. Call for help goes without saying. After that a lot of variables would effect any further actions. Can I see someone who is injured requiring help? It would be harder to remain detached if you can see a victim. Is the gunman visible or audible? Would my appearance make the situation more complicated? I'm guessing that my reaction would be to call for help, assess the situation and if possible remain out of harms way for as long as possible.
    You certainly ask some hard questions MC.

  17. i'm an average citizen. i would run to a fire (have done so before) to help. i would not run toward a house with shots fired by myself unarmed. i am woefully unequipped and unprepared to handle an assailant with a gun. in that case i run to nearest location/house/etc that has a phone I can use to call 911. i'll then watch and if i see someone run away from house with shooting sounds i'll go inside and try to render aid. however, the only way i'm charging into a house with shots fired and screaming with no gun or training is if a loved one is inside because i'll fully expect to never be walking out of it again.

  18. If they had a cell phone I think the average person would call 911 and report the incident. Weather the call was made or not, the I believe that average person would move to a good vantage point for the fire and run away from the gunshots. A few people might stay around to see the aftermath of the gunshots.

    In my case, (assuming I had all my gear) I'd call 911 first before advancing with my fire extinguisher or firearm to see if I could help or rescue someone. At least, that's what I did in the past in the case of a fire. In case of a shooting, it's what I hope I'd do, not having any real experience in the matter.

  19. One thing nobody mentioned yet is that's the shooting might be cops executing a search warrant or responding to a domestic, and the cry might be a dirtbag summoning another dirtbag to shoot back at the cops. Just because there aren't any obvious patrol cars you can see doesn't mean Johnny law isn't already handling the situation.

    All you CCW holders need to remember that- you could be wading into a crossfire where its not at all clear who the bad guys are and who the good guys are. The wise thing to do in example 2 is to knock on a neighbor's door and tell them to call the cops while covering the front door of the suspect house and protecting the neighbor.

  20. Lots of good responses here.

    I'm sure I saw one saying, in effect, fires spread in a way gunfights do not. Can't find it now, but it's a good point. That's why there's a bucket brigade tradition.

    However, while a gunfight may be directed at a single target, lawlessness most assuredly spreads.

    This is the terrible cost of the "Don't be a hero" mindset, to say nothing of, "Your money (or VCR, or jewels, or whatever) is not worth a human life". Peaceable society darn well is worth a human life, that of the malefactor, who is the one who set the stakes.

    And Happy Medic? "An idiot with a gun can kill dozens at 100 yards."

    Really? Care to cite an example? I can think of a few where a well-armed assailant has shot several people close up on purpose (Virgina Tech, ferex) but at 100 yards, you're talking about stray rounds, which are most likely to go into walls.

    In contrast, imagine every other household in a neighborhood is armed. Somebody attacks a woman on the street, there may well be two or three defenders, right there on scene, instantly.

    Not to mention if the woman herself is armed….

    I mean, it's like everyone carrying their own extinguisher, and some having their own firetruck in the garage.

    By the way, I can report my own experience of walking through my neighborhood, searching for the smoke I smelled at 2 AM, and waking the house with the burning car in the attached carport. In that neighborhood, I was at risk of being shot through the door, so I stood to one side while shouting and knocking. I had no phone.

    In the same neighborhood, I heard gunshots routinely. My alertness would go up, but the fight would be over by the time I could get outside to determine the source.

  21. North State DA: "All you CCW holders need to remember that- you could be wading into a crossfire where its not at all clear who the bad guys are and who the good guys are."

    That's an excellent point. For similar reasons, I understand cops themselves are reluctant to intervene in domestic violence situations.

    "Well regulated militia," it says here, and that means well-trained. I'd love to see a federally funded, state-run high school militia course, like drivers' ed, that would cover stuff like this.

    However, this is good reason for caution, not good reason to turtle. The impulse should be to come to your neighbor's aid, no matter what.

    As a side effect, in the case of widespread carry, the police would be wise to not enforce unpopular laws, and to use force as little as possible. I speak here of the increasing tendency to use midnight no-knock warrants except in life-threatening emergencies.

    I want individuals to be able to defend themselves, neighbors to help each other, and the police to be a last ditch backup. Mostly, I want the police to bag the bodies and do the paperwork. Most often, that's all they can do anyway, again, best will in the world.

  22. I'd love to say I think that they'd help, but I did A level psychology. Tends to be that the more people around to help, the less likely anyone will help (people tend to assume that someone else will sort it, that it's not their responsibility). Personally, in both situations I would run to nearest house or pay-phone and call 999 (911) to get help. Once I'd done that, with the fire I would approach and find out more details. With the gunshot, unless I could see a casualty, then I would probably stay clear and wait for the police 🙂

  23. @North State DA

    That's the exact reason why my Conceal Carry class taught what it did.

    The instructor told us the following story (racism involved because real world racism exists).

    A woman is at a gas station, when a nice luxury sedan pulls up and 4 white guys in suits get out. 1 starts pumping gas another goes inside.

    As she's walking to the car, a van pulls up with several black guys guns drawn aiming at the white guys.

    She pulls out her concealed weapon and told them to drop their weapons.

    The story luckily had a semi-happy ending. No one was hurt, and she is spending the next few years in prison for pulling a firearm on the FBI (I think they said) while they were in pursuit of bank robbers (the white guys).

    Was also a part of the lesson that in Oklahoma at least, when you use your gun, you're taking the shoes of the person you're defending, and guilty of same consequences as if they had done it.

    So unless you know the -entire- story, and can be sure of their innocence, you're risking your life and freedom by protecting them.