After the shooting in San Bernardino, a friend passed on an article about a driver in Chicago who prevented a mass shooting by pulling his own pistol. He wounded the gunman who had begun to fire into a crowd, thereby preventing the killing of innocent people.
The same article reported on an incident in Philadelphia in which there was a shooting in a barbershop. The shooter was killed when a passerby heard the gunfire and shot dead the would-be-mass murder.
The article implies that if more people had guns more mass shootings would be prevented.
An article in the Washington Post found four other incidents, from 1998 to 2007, in which civilians intervened to stop a mass murder.
Do these examples make the case for more guns in the hands of more civilians? There may be an argument to be made for increased legalized concealed weapons, but six instances over twenty years are anecdotes, not evidence.
Let’s take a step back.
Mass shootings are becoming more frequent. How should police respond to an active shooter? In the past, the SWAT team was called and these highly trained cops laid siege to the building and methodically confronted the shooter.
Most police departments have abandoned this procedure and have adopted a new protocol. Now the first cops to arrive immediately storm the building and as quickly as possible take down the shooter.
The calculus is that active shooters aren’t interested in taking hostages but in creating carnage. The longer the police wait the greater the death toll. So cops swarm into the building, ignore those who are wounded and pursue the shooter until the deadly conclusion.
I attended Nassau County’s Civilian Police Academy where we were put into a simulated active shooter scene where we were to play cops called to a school under siege. We had received instructions in the classroom and put through a dry run. Then we sent into a school building with the “shooter” firing blanks at us.
Flashes illuminated darkened halls and the noise of gunshots bounced off walls. We swept in tight formation towards where we thought the shooter was. Every classroom was a potential hiding place, every corner was a threat. Our fingers were on our triggers. If these were real guns, we would have fired many times, mostly at what we thought was the perpetrator but was not.
Even this playacting revealed the chaos and panic where uncertainty is combined with high danger.
What does this have to do with gun control?
Imagine that in this school, school guards, office staff and teachers had all been armed, as some have proposed as a way of keeping school children safe. What would a cop do when he spots someone holding a gun? Shoot, of course. What happens when you hear shots ring out? You pull the trigger either to stop what you think is the perpetrator or in self-defense.
It seems to me that if there are many guns present in an active shooter situation, more, not less people will be killed. Cops will be shooting innocent people, civilians will be shooting one another. There would be no way to make clear who were the criminals and who was trying to stop them. Everyone becomes a target.
My experience at the Civilian Police Academy (and a similar one in the army) is that volatile situations produce panic and you need rigorous training to know how to react properly. Putting more guns in the hands of more people isn’t the way to safety. Putting fewer guns into the hands of people and getting better training for the police makes more sense.