Waffle House shooting saviour: ‘I’m no hero’

Survivor: James Shaw Jr suffered burns and a gunshot wound to the elbow during the attack.

Is self-interest a virtue? America’s latest mass shooting has left four people dead. But worse tragedy was averted after James Shaw Jr tackled the killer. He says he was just being “selfish”.

“I want people to know that I did that completely out of a selfish act. I was completely doing it just to save myself.”

These are the extraordinary words of James Shaw Jr, spoken hours after he wrestled a gun from a mass killer, saving many lives in the process.

At 03:19am on Sunday, Travis Reinking pulled up to a Waffle House in Antioch, Tennessee. Minutes later, he was shooting, killing two people outside before opening fire in the restaurant.

Shaw heard the shots and took cover in a bathroom. As Reinking paused, Shaw sprang. He rushed the gunman and wrenched the weapon from his hands.

The attacker immediately fled, leaving four innocent people dead in his wake. Without Shaw, it could have been much worse; police spokesman Don Aaron praising his “heroic actions”.

Yet this is a label Shaw refuses. “I am not a hero,” he said. “I took the gun so I could get myself out.”

While the massacre will inflame America’s gun control debate, Shaw’s striking comments also touch on an issue that has taxed philosophers for generations: the role self-interest plays in morality.

For example, in The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand argues that self-interest is the best guiding moral principle. Altruism (prioritising the well-being of others) she rejects, saying it teaches a person “not how to live his life but how to sacrifice it”.

Is self-interest a virtue?


No, our moral obligations must be to others, some argue. While Shaw intended to save himself, his actions became more morally good precisely because they saved the lives of people around him.

Self-interest is better for all in the long run, some respond. Humans know their own needs intimately, but can misread those of others. Therefore, meddling attempts to “do good” can make things worse.

You Decide

  1. Is Shaw a hero?


  1. James Shaw Jr described himself as “selfish” — a word often used to describe people negatively. Are there times when it is good to be selfish? Could selfishness be classified as a virtue? Share your ideas with the class.

Some People Say...

“Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish.”

Richard Dawkins

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Gunman Travis Reinking had multiple brushes with the law before the Waffle House shooting. Last year he was arrested by the US Secret Service after trespassing near the grounds of the White House, saying he wanted to meet President Donald Trump.
What do we not know?
The killer’s motive. County Sheriff Robert Huston claimed there was evidence of “some sort of mental health issues involved”.

Word Watch

The shooter was using an AR-15, a controversial weapon due to its use in other mass shootings.
The victims were Taurean C. Sanderlin, Joe R. Perez, Akilah DaSilva, and DeEbony Groves. All were in their 20s.
Gun control
One controversial aspect of the case is that police had previously confiscated the attacker’s guns following a past incident. However, they later returned them to his father, who gave them back to the killer.
Ayn Rand
Russian-American novelist and philosopher (1905-1982).

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.