The Fantasy of Armed Civilians Stopping a Massacre

One of the sentiments I often hear after a mass shooting is, “if I (or someone else) was there with a gun, I could have stopped this.” I live 5 miles from the Aurora, CO theater. I can’t tell you how many times I heard this argument in the days and weeks following the shooting.

David Frum, in a paywalled article, addresses this as pure mythology:

As for the idea that armed civilians might stop gun massacres, it is a fantasy, plain and simple. As Mother Jones reports: “Gun rights die-hards frequently credit the end of a rampage in 2002 at the Appalachian School of Law in Virginia to armed ‘students’ who intervened — while failing to disclose that those students were also current and former law enforcement officers and that the killer, according to police investigators, was out of ammo by the time they got to him.” In all the many massacres of the past 30 years only one perpetrator was stopped by an armed civilian, back in 1982 — and only after the killer had completed his spree and left the scene. The ideal of guns as self-protection owes little to evidence and much to the kind of cultural fears that have come into greater visibility since the election of President Barack Obama.

Four days before the shooting in Newtown, an advertiser in the conservative National Review sent the following email to subscribers: “Since the 1970s the bleeding-heart liberals in Washington have let this all happen . . . They’ve been hell-bent on passing laws that legally empower dangerous criminals; including reduced sentences, minimal jail time and easy parole. While at the same time literally castrating law-abiding citizens like you and me whenever we attempt to defend ourselves, our home and our family.”

None of those claims is true, of course. American prison sentences are the most draconian in the democratic world. Yet those claims find ready credence. They are the emotions that inhibit the rational regulation of firearms — and that enable atrocities such as the massacre in Newtown to recur again and again and again.

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5 Responses to The Fantasy of Armed Civilians Stopping a Massacre

  1. rjrock says:

    Thanks for the link. Indeed, it was a good article and I can appreciate the perspective. I concur, that is not the America I want to live in. However, I also think that improved security doesn’t necessarily need to be obvious, as with our air marshall program. Rather than some sort of wild west scenario, I wouldn’t mind having a gun safe in the principals office, with first responders trained in the use of its contents, if only to prevent such a catastrophic loss of life. Of course, like most serious problems, this one is not simply about access to defensive weapons, but reflects a gap in our social institutions where lingering mental health issues aren’t identified or treated, where nearly anyone can get a serious weapon in moments, and where our public spaces remain soft targets. We have a lot of soul searching to do. Thanks for getting it started.

    • Thank you once again for commenting. I hope to hear more of your thoughts in the future. I hope to make this a ‘jerk free zone’ where all good ideas and honest discussions are welcome.

    • Derrick Doyle says:

      rjrock- I am a teacher, and every school I have worked in has had armed police officers working inside the school. It’s hard for me to see how such a gun safe in the principal’s office would add to the overall security of the school. I would appreciate your thoughts on this. Thanks!

  2. rjrock says:

    I thought I might offer a counterpoint to your argument. After 9/11, pilots began carrying firearms in the cockpit and armed federal marshals were placed on planes. Don’t you think that carries some deterrent power? I mean, most of the recent shootings have happened precisely in places where deterrents do not exist. Perhaps, at a bare minimum, our schools should have the means to defend themselves and deter would be rampagers from seeing them as soft targets.

    • Thanks for your comment. I don’t think it would be unreasonable for individual communities to decide of they want a police presence in their schools. They could decide how to finance that as well because there would be some sort of extra cost to the government.

      I do not thing there is any evidence that guns in planes have deter violence but I am fine with Air Marshalls as they are trained professionals, and are subject to rules and regulations and must qualify on a regular basis.

      The broader question then becomes, “what kind of society do we want to live in?” Here is an interesting opinion piece from an Army Special Forces officer just coming back from Afghanistan. He doesn’t want our society to be a war zone, where everyone must be armed in order to have ‘safety.’

      Do we really want to have civilians walking around with M-4’s and sidearms? Do we really want teachers to walk the halls armed like a soldier? That’s not the America I want to live in.

      Thanks again for adding to this discussion. Its appreciated.

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