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Our View: Consider nuance as gun debate rages

Scroll up and down your Facebook wall and you could easily reach the conclusion that just about everyone has an opinion on gun control, an issue that returned to the forefront after the slayings of schoolchildren and educators at a Connecticut school.

What should give us pause is the black-and-white tenor the issue has struck as supporters and opponents take to the Internet to weigh in on the weighty matter of gun control.

Perhaps most notable were comments from a National Rifle Association leader, who now famously declared that "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

An Internet meme - those things that usually involve an image coupled with a snarky slogan - being shared on Facebook attempts to relate the concept in simple terms. The meme depicts two frames: one in which smiling stick figures labeled Good Guys With Guns stand opposite frowning stick figures labeled Bad Guys With Guns. The second frame pictures frowning Good Guys Without Guns opposite their counterparts - Bad Guys With Guns, who are now the ones smiling.

The meme concludes, "Do you get it? Or are you stupid or something?"

On the outset, this seems logical. Bad guys with guns need to be stopped - or at least deterred. This must be accomplished by armed good guys.

The NRA's statement, well-meaning though it probably is, may be worth a brief examination.

Let's consider what happened in Woodbury last August at the Red Roof Inn.

To recap: Woodbury officers, responding to an open line call, arrive at the motel in the dark of night. The officers approach a room, where a man approaches a window and points a gun at one of the officers. Officers take up positions on the balcony, knowing they have been threatened. Shortly after, a shot rings out and a man bursts from the roof toward the officers. The man does not respond to officers' commands and is shot dead.

An apparent cut-and-dried example of good guys stopping a bad guy.

The catch: the dead man is later determined to have been an unarmed hostage from the room who was attempting to escape.

The Red Roof incident represents a textbook example of "good guys" - the police - doing their best to interpret a situation involving a "bad guy." The people who made the decision to fire had received training in deadly force situations. And then they were placed in one, where a man died.

We are not judging right and wrong in the Red Roof incident. We have no reason to believe the officers were doing anything other than attempting to protect themselves in what appeared to be a life-threatening situation.

Regardless, they got it wrong in that instance, and it's likely many of us would have reacted similarly.

It's worth considering the message that is sent by stating that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Sometimes, despite the best training and information people have at the time, mistakes can happen. Bad guys aren't always as they seem. Leaving that decision up to any armed citizen who feels justified in deciding to use lethal force presents an even murkier scenario. For instance, we consider the Rochester, Minn., man who opened fire on a suspected burglar that turned out to be his granddaughter.

This is not to argue against the use of lethal force. There are situations that require us to defend ourselves or to protect others from being harmed.

As our world becomes more complex and information spreads ever faster across social media, it's important for us to remember that nuance exists. Yes, there are black-and-white situations. There are also situations muddled in gray.

These topics deserve thoughtful discussion - the kind that doesn't fit easily into an Internet meme.