When James Shaw Jr. wrestled a rifle away from a deranged man in an Antioch, Tennessee, Waffle House, he likely saved dozens of lives.
He says he did it for completely “selfish” reasons. He realized, as he hid in the bathroom, that there was no way out. He just wanted to keep breathing, and to go home and see his daughter again.
Shaw doesn’t see himself as a hero. He’s just a regular guy who did what he had to do to survive in a situation where four others did not.
So he didn’t intend to stop a rampaging gunman because he wanted to save others. So what? So he was scared, so what? We all would be in that situation, no matter what our power fantasies tell us.
The bottom line is that, when he took that gun and tossed it over the restaurant’s counter, he did save lives. He did it in the action of saving his own. So what?
Intent doesn’t matter. It never really has.
If I punched a man in the face and refused to apologize because I was swinging at the guy next to him, my intent didn’t matter. My actions did (and I’m probably about to get my butt kicked). If I say something that hurts my wife’s feelings, does it matter that I intended it as a joke? No. I don’t get to say whether her feelings are hurt. She does. All I should do is apologize (and probably get my butt kicked again).
So Shaw’s intent was simply to survive. So what? Can you blame him? In that kind of situation can any of us truly say how we’d react? It’s easy to think of nobility and honor and the value of others when bullets aren’t coming through the door you’re hiding behind.
Where would this story be without Shaw? What if the other Waffle House he and a friend tried to go to first wasn’t so crowded? What if he just didn’t feel like getting out that night? What if he was so afraid it paralyzed him?
You know the answer as well as I do. Another mass shooting (as if four deaths isn’t bad enough), this one right on our doorstep, a mere hour from the state border. More meaningless deaths at the hands of a crazed individual who should never have had access to his weapons again.
If this is a lesson, it’s one of personal responsibility. When it comes to others, our actions mean something. Our intent only matters to us and maybe the jury if we commit a heinous crime and want a lighter sentence.
In negative situations, this means we need to carefully consider before we speak or act. That doesn’t change just because this is a situation where a man is responsible for the continue existence of other people.
It is the public who gets to decide the impact of Shaw’s actions. We have spoken. He doesn’t get to make that call. He’s a hero whether he likes it or not, and that’s this week’s small victory.
Also, I really hope this guy never has to pay for his hashbrowns again. He deserves that much.
(JESSE JONES is the editor of The Eagle Post, a member of the New Era Media Group. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you too, put Frank’s RedHot on everything.)