George Pyle: The hero is the one who brings a tourniquet to a gunfight

Shoppers with their hands raised are evacuated from Fashion Place Mall in Murray, Utah, after a shooting on Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Yes. It’s true. There have been, and will be, times when a bad guy with a gun will be stopped by a good guy with a gun.

But it is crystal clear that the last thing — the very last thing — that the Shootout at the Fashion Place Mall needed was more armed people.

As best we civilians can piece it all together, it seems that there was an unfortunate encounter of members of two rival gangs at the Murray shopping center. (That’s not a sentence many of us ever expected we’d be writing. But there you are.)

Apparently, some traded insults escalated to blows and then to a blessedly brief exchange of gunfire. Two members of one gang were wounded. One was treated and released. The other remains hospitalized. Two young people have been arrested and more are being sought.

It could have turned out much worse for those two folks, except the sound of bad guys with guns drew a good guy with a tourniquet.

Well, a couple of improvised tourniquets, offered by other bystanders to a selfless U.S. Army sergeant who, while he must have been trained somewhere along the way how to shoot people, also acquired the much more useful skill of how to stop them from bleeding to death.

Like a lot of American heroes, Sgt. Marshall VanHook ran toward the sounds of gunfire rather than away, just to see if he could help. He later told The Salt Lake Tribune that his first thought was to get a look at the attackers so he could later describe them to the police, but that public-spirited goal quickly evaporated in the confusion of panicked people running in every direction. So he turned his attention to helping the wounded.

It is not recorded if VanHook was armed. But if he had been packing, his quick realization that the situation did not allow him to instantly see who the bad guys were would have — should have — deterred him from engaging.

Not everyone would be so clear-thinking in such a situation.

Adding yahoos with Utah concealed carry permits — no real training required — to the theater of battle would most likely have been tragedy, farce or both.

In this situation, the targets of those shooting were known to them. They were not random people in the sights of someone driven to take out as many innocent bystanders as possible before almost inevitably being killed themselves — most likely by a police officer.

Adding more active shooters to the situation would have only increased the carnage many times over. The toll likely would have included more people, beyond the members of the rival gangs. Innocent bystanders, responding security guards and police officers, and volunteer vigilantes would have been on the casualty list.

The 2007 mass shooting at Salt Lake City’s Trolley Square was ended by a good guy — a trained police officer — with a gun. It happens. But that officer was aided in his brave response by the accurate perception that there was only one other armed person present, and thus only one person who needed shooting.

Lots of civilians carrying weapons will only serve to make the fog of modern urban warfare even murkier.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, might very well have been at Trolley Square that day. Except he had the foresight to hide in Buffalo for a few years. gpyle@sltrib.com