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.