After a mass shooting, there are many myths that Republicans will trot out in their attempts to argue that more gun control is not the answer. One is that the vast majority of mass shootings take place in gun-free zones, and the other is that the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Listen to the way right-wingers talk about this subject and you'll begin to believe that if you so much as switch your gun on safety, mass-murdering maniacs will crawl out of the woodwork and descend upon you!
The claim about gun-free zones is based upon a data-set where the locations of mass shootings are horribly misclassified. What we're told are "gun-free zones" often contain armed security, police officers, members of the military, and run-of-the-mill gun-toting citizens. The policies within these so-called gun-free zones often do, in fact, allow people to carry guns on site. On top of that, mass shootings committed during the commission of another crime or within private residences are excluded from the analysis—despite the fact that this latter category comprises the vast majority of mass shootings.
Nationwide data makes very clear that the more relaxed a state's gun laws, and the higher its rate of gun ownership, the more mass shooting deaths per million people. Loosening our gun laws and having more people carry more guns in more locations would sharply increase the number of all-cause gun deaths in the United States—and also the number of mass shootings.
More good guys with guns might sound good, in principle, but it's difficult to put more guns in good guys' hands while simultaneously keeping them out of bad guys' hands—especially given Republican efforts to block the very kinds of laws that would help accomplish this goal. In many cases, untrained "good guys with guns" can actually cause more harm than good, and the deterrence effect would hardly apply to suicidal mass shooters.
Conservatives make the fundamental mistake of focusing on how we should respond once the mass shooting has already begun, while the more important question is: How can we prevent such mass shootings from occurring in the first place? More gun control—and not less—is the answer.
Conservatives commonly cite numbers provided by John Lott of The Crime Prevention Research Center, who tells us that 94% of mass public shootings since 1950 have taken place in gun-free zones. Sometimes the cited percentage is even as high as 98%, as Donald Trump claimed in a speech of his.
The first point of response is that the data isn't nearly as clear-cut as conservatives make it out to be. What conclusion you arrive at depends heavily on what you do and don't count as a mass-shooting—and what does and does not qualify as a gun-free zone.
Meg Kelly points out a problem with these often-cited numbers in a Washington Post article:
"Lott used a wide definition of 'gun-free zone' to compile this data. He said he included any place where a 'general citizen' wasn't able to carry a concealed weapon. This included any state that didn't have either a right-to-carry or concealed-carry law."
What are called "gun-free zones" under such a loose criteria can still, in fact, have people with guns on site. As Amy Sherman writes for Politifact,
"Lott characterized Fort Hood and Washington Navy Yard, military sites attacked by gunmen, as gun-free despite the presence of armed security.
'There's an obvious logical problem with such a conceptualization: How can a place be a gun-free zone if guns are present?' [Louis] Klarevas writes. 'The implication is that rampage shooters are only deterred by armed civilians, not by armed guards and cops. But that's an absurd suggestion.'"
"Hey, look at that gun-free zone over there!"
"You mean the place where there's a bunch of armed security walking around?"
"Yeah, that's the one!"
Another example of this is a 2015 mass shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee which killed five people. The CPRC writes the following about this incident:
"Abdulazeez fired at the Army/Navy recruitment center from the parking lot. . . . Media reports suggest that there was at least one service member on the premises who had a personal firearm and used it to fire at Abdulazeez."
Absurdly enough, this, too, was classified by the CPRC as a "gun-free zone." This guy literally got into a gunfight with soldiers and John's like "Yup, let's go ahead and chalk it up as a gun-free zone."
You can also find examples where Lott classifies as "gun-free" locations where general citizens themselves were carrying guns. Take the 2007 Arvada, Colorado mass shooting, for instance. As Lott writes:
". . . Technically people aren't allowed to carry permitted concealed handguns at a church, but 18 people who asked for permission to carry were made volunteer security guards."
"Dude, there's only like 18 people with guns who hang out at this place. Definitely a gun-free zone." This is complete silliness—especially considering that this particular mass shooting is one that conservatives point to as proving the value of using guns to stop mass shootings! Here's what we read in a Fox News article by Andrew O'Reilly entitled "Texas church shooting not the first time a good guy with gun takes down mass shooter":
". . . in 2007, Matthew Murray killed four people at Colorado Spring church before being shot by church member and volunteer security guard Jeanne Assam."
Is there anything John Lott won't classify as a gun-free zone?
He's like: "This is a really nice gun-free zone you have here."
I'm like: "John, we're at a firing range right now."
Another misclassification is the 2015 Umpqua Community College shooting. As Amy Sherman continues,
"Lott says that the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon was in a gun-free zone and points to a school policy that bans possession of firearms 'except as expressly authorized by law or college regulations.'
[UCC] spokeswoman Anne Marie Levis previously told PolitiFact Florida the school's gun-free policy didn't apply to students with a valid permit. 'UCC was never designated as a "gun-free zone" by any signage or policy,' she said. 'Umpqua Community College does comply with state law by allowing students with concealed carry licenses to bring firearms on campus.'"
And here's what we learn in a ThinkProgress article (John's like "Think"? "Progress"? I'm not interested in either of those things!):
"Public colleges in Oregon are prohibited from banning guns on campus, thanks to a 2011 state court decision. . . . Multiple reports at the time revealed that there were several armed students on campus at the time of the [UCC] shooting."
A 2007 Salt Lake City shooting took place in a mall where a "No guns allowed" sign was posted, prompting Lott to classify it as a gun-free zone.
But according to GunsToCarry.com,
"'No Weapons' signs under Utah gun laws have no force of law unless they are posted in areas that are mentioned by the law as being off limits. The law specifically mentions 'places of worship' and 'private residences.'"
The 2015 San Bernardino shooting is an example where Lott appears to violate his own criteria. His definition of a gun-free zone includes "Places where it is illegal to carry a permitted concealed handgun."
But here's what he writes about the San Bernadino shooting, which—you guessed it—took place in a gun-free zone, according to John:
"The shooting took place at the Inland Regional Center, which is a state-run facility for individuals with developmental disabilities, including children. According to California law, the carrying of firearms is prohibited in state or local public buildings. However, concealed carry permit holders are exempt from this prohibition."
So as we can see, many locations that Lott describes as "gun-free" are not, in fact, gun-free zones by any reasonable definition of such a term—making his claim that 94% of mass shootings take place in gun-free zones an obviously inaccurate overstatement of the facts.
John's criteria for what constitutes a "gun-free" zone is flawed for another reason, explained by Evan & Devin in their ThinkProgress article:
". . . his mass shooting report expands the gun-free zone definition to include areas where Lott feels it might be difficult to obtain a permit or where there might not be many permit holders despite being able to legally carry."
He also excludes from his data-set all mass shootings that took place within private residences—where gun ownership is allowed—and also mass shootings that took place during the commission of another crime. He explains his logic in both cases as follows:
"The official FBI definition of mass public shootings excludes 'shootings that resulted from gang or drug violence' or that occurred in the commission of another crime such as robbery. The reason for this is pretty obvious: the causes and solutions for gang shootings over drug turf are dramatically different than the types of mass public shootings that we see at schools and malls where the point of the attack is to kill as many people as possible.
The FBI also includes only shootings in 'public places' . . . The reason for this is clear: for example, if the attack is in a home, the attacker is much more likely to know if a gun is owned in the home and who might have access to it. By contrast, when an attack occurs in a public place, the attackers don’t know who they have to be concerned might have a gun to stop them."
According to a 2015 report by Everytown For Gun Safety, of the 133 mass shootings between January 2009 and July 2015, 94 of them—or 71%—took place in private residences. This means that Lott is excluding from his data the largest category of mass shootings. When you broaden your inclusion criteria and more finely categorize mass shootings, you reach a very different conclusion from him.
As Sherman continues in her article,
"Klarevas uses three definitions: he refers to 'gun-free zones' as places where civilians are not allowed to carry guns, and there aren't armed personnel stationed on the property. He calls 'gun-restricting zones' places where civilians can't carry guns, yet armed security is routinely present -- such as military facilities or certain college campuses. He refers to places that allow civilians to carry guns as 'gun-allowing zones.'
Using these categories, Klarevas examined 111 shootings since 1966 in which six or more people had been killed in each incident -- regardless of whether it occurred in a public or private location or if it was in the commission of another crime. He found 13 took place in gun-free zones and five took place in gun-restricting zones. That means that the majority occurred in areas where there was no evidence that private guns were prohibited."
So only 13 out of 111 took place in completely gun-free zones—or about 12% of them. Thus, when you more accurately group shootings by the level of gun restriction, and when you include shootings in private locations and where other crimes are being committed—that is to say, when you take into consideration all mass shootings—the statistic is almost completely reversed: 88% of mass shootings did not take place in gun-free zones.
Everytown For Gun Research reaches a similar conclusion, using a timeline from 2009 to 2015, and also examining all mass shootings where four or more people were killed:
"Ninety-four of the 133 incidents (71%) took place wholly in private residences. Of the 38 incidents in public spaces, at least 21 took place wholly or in part where concealed guns could be lawfully carried. All told, no more than 17 of the shootings (13%) took place entirely in public spaces that were so-called 'gun-free zones.'"
John's like: "If you just exclude all of these mass shootings that didn't take place in a gun-free zone, you'll find that almost all of the ones that are left took place in gun-free zones! Ta-daahh!"
No, with that said, I do understand why Lott used the criteria he used. He's interested in a very particular type of mass shooting: Not one that takes place in a private home for interpersonal reasons, not one that happens during a gang war or robbery gone wrong, but he specifically focused on the mass shootings where somebody goes out in public and tries to kill as many people as they can. When we think about mass shootings, this is what we tend to imagine anyway. Even still, when we do look only at this particular type of mass shooting, it's clear from a close examination of these events that what Lott calls a "gun-free zone" is very often anything but.
I would also ask, to what degree would such gun-free policies be enforced and effective? When I was in college, for example, every building on campus had a "no guns allowed" sign posted on the doors—yet there were no metal detectors I had to walk through, nobody ever searched my bags to confirmed that I was unarmed, so I could've had a gun on me every single day and nobody would've ever noticed. Plus I was so drunk half the time that for all I know I did have a gun on me!
There wasn't actually anything there to deter me from possessing a gun—and so it would be with many other locations where they technically don't allow guns but do nothing to determine whether people are actually complying with their policy before they can enter the establishment. Just something else to keep in mind about "gun-free zones."
With all of that said, while the statistics used by conservatives on this question are misleading and incomplete—while the classifying of locations as "gun-free" is very often done in error—there is some validity to the argument that certain mass shooters try to target areas where there's a lower chance of meeting armed resistance.
Here's what John Lott writes in a National Review article:
"Mass killers have even explicitly talked about their desire to attack gun-free zones. The Charleston, S.C., church shooting in June was instead almost a college shooting. But that killer changed his plans after realizing that the College of Charleston had armed guards.
. . . Elliot Rodger, who fatally shot three people in Santa Barbara, Calif., explained his reasoning in his 141-page 'manifesto.' He ruled out various targets because he worried that someone with a gun would stop his killing spree."
The implication of all of these arguments is obvious: by implementing stricter gun-control laws, you're actually making people less safe and more of a target for mass shooters. The solution, then, is to make it easier for people to possess guns in more locations.
Lott claims this isn't just speculation; he says he has hard data to back it up:
". . . the deterrent and life-saving effects of concealed-handgun laws on mass public shootings aren't just anecdotal. Bill Landes of the University of Chicago and I gathered data on mass public shootings from 1977 to 1999. We studied 13 different types of gun-control laws as well as the impact of law enforcement, but the only law that had a statistically significant impact on mass public shootings was the passage of right-to-carry laws. Right-to-carry laws reduced both the frequency and the severity of mass public shootings; and to the extent to which mass shootings still occurred, they took place in those tiny areas in the states where permitted concealed handguns were not allowed."
Frankly, I just do not trust conservative darling John Lott to be an impartial researcher on these questions. He's the author of such books as More Guns, Less Crime and The War On Guns: Arming Yourself Against Gun Control Lies. His analysis and writing is done from a very staunch right-wing perspective, as the Amazon description of his latest book makes clear:
"When it comes to the gun control debate, there are two kinds of data: data that's accurate, and data that left-wing billionaires, liberal politicians, and media want you to believe is accurate."
John Lott is so pro–2nd Amendment that his AR-15 shoots smaller AR-15s!
He's so pro–2nd Amendment that he wants to ban everything except assault weapons!
He's so pro–2nd Amendment that during his last active shooter drill, he was hiding on top of a table!
...The fact that Lott has a bias in favor of guns doesn't necessarily make him wrong, but it should cause you to be skeptical of his findings and ask yourself what other researchers have concluded on these questions.
By the way, hilariously enough, I also came across a book on Amazon entitled: Why Everyone Needs An AR-15: A Guide For Kids. No, this is not satire; this is real-life in America. The publisher of this masterpiece is "Silly Kids Books" and I think that is very appropriate.
Evan & Devin provide further reason to distrust Lott's findings when they write the following:
"[He's] been caught pushing studies with severe statistical errors on numerous occasions. An investigation uncovered that he had almost certainly fabricated an entire survey on defensive gun use. And a blogger revealed that Mary Rosh, an online commentator claiming to be a former student of Lott's who would frequently post about how amazing he was, was in fact John Lott himself."
Wow, creating a fake persona just to praise yourself online? That is fucking sad... Isn't that right, biggest fan of my YouTube channel, Danton Ybal?
Me in obvious, crappy disguise: "That's right, Anton. It's completely pathetic. By the way, your videos are incredible, and I really think that everybody watching should support you on Patreon."
So what do other, non-disgraced researchers conclude about the subject? Paul Reeping et al, in a 2019 BMJ study, found that the more relaxed a state's overall gun laws, the higher the number of mass shootings per million people.
Their legal restrictiveness criteria included factors such as:
". . . standard firearms ownership and permit requirements; if semi-automatic, high capacity magazines, machine guns, and suppressors are permitted or restricted; if the state employs a right to self-defense, ability to conceal, ability to open and vehicle carry, ability to conceal carry in state parks, or whether a gun permittee can carry in a restaurant serving alcohol."
They also found, not surprisingly, that the higher the percentage of gun ownership in a state, the more mass shootings per million people—exactly the opposite of the conservative narrative. As they write,
"A 10 unit increase in the permissiveness of state gun laws was associated with an approximately 9% higher rate of mass shootings after adjusting for key factors. A 10% increase in gun ownership was associated with an approximately 35% higher rate of mass shootings after adjusting for key factors."
Allow me to phrase it another way: The more Republicans get what they want on gun control, the more people get killed in mass shootings.
A Wired article about this study writes that:
"This trend showed up even after the models were adjusted for population demographics like household income, unemployment, poverty, education, incarceration rates, and race."
At a more basic level, Republicans commonly make the point that by having a gun on your person, you're going to be more capable of stopping a mass shooter and saving lives. As Wayne LaPierre of the NRA famously said, "the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." And then he went back to playing with red blocks before nap-time.
No, this is another argument where there is some validity to it. We can all imagine a scenario where a mass shooting breaks out, and a responsible, armed citizen promptly responds by neutralizing the threat and saving the day. The idea is that arming more people would deter people from committing mass shootings in the first place—and once mass shootings broke out, they would be ended more quickly by the targets returning fire. This might sound good on paper, but the real-world analysis is much more complicated than this.
The first thing to point out is that according to an FBI report on active shooters, 34% of them kill themselves on site. An additional, unspecified percentage who died at the hands of police undoubtedly went into it knowing that it was basically a suicide mission. I think it's fair to say that at least half of mass shooters plan and hope for their life to end in the event—so the idea that an increased probability of armed resistance would deter these hopelessly-suicidal shooters is very suspect.
We also need to seriously examine what impact arming more people would have on this country overall. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that more people carrying firearms would reduce both the number and severity of mass shootings. Even if this was the case, the analysis doesn't stop here. We need to ask ourselves: What would be the broader impact of more people owning and carrying guns?
The data on this point is very clear: more guns leads to more death, in the form of homicide, suicide, or accidental discharge. This is a trend that you see among developed countries, and also among the different states in the US—and it's a subject that I carefully examined in a previous video of mine.
There's about 36,000 gun deaths in this country each year. All things kept equal, if we doubled the rate of gun ownership in this country, you could reasonably expect a doubling of gun deaths in this country—from 36,000 to 72,000.
Vox tells us that:
"A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report from 2013 identified 78 'public mass shootings' between 1983 and 2012, which claimed 547 lives."
547 mass-shooting deaths over a 30-year period is about 18 deaths per year. These numbers, however, have obviously been increasing in recent years, as this data from MotherJones and this data from Everytown Research makes clear. Let's just call it 100 deaths per year to be conservative and keep things simple.
100 deaths per year from mass shootings vs 36,000 deaths from all other forms of gun violence. That means you're around 360x more likely to die in a small-number gun homicide, suicide or accidental discharge than you are to die in a mass shooting. Let's assume the conservatives are right and say that doubling the rate of gun ownership in America would cut the number of mass shooting deaths in half from 100 to 50 per year. Cool, we're saving 50 lives per year—but then we're losing an additional 36,000 from all these other sources of gun death steadily taking place in the background.
Arming more people simply doesn't make sense as a solution if our goal is to minimize the loss of life all across the board. Increasing gun ownership would get far more people killed—not less.
There's even a strong case to be made that more gun ownership would increase mass shooting deaths, as well. If more gun ownership would translate into more gun homicides, it naturally follows that it will also correlate with more homicides that fall into the mass shooting category. More people owning guns simply means that more people will be in a position where they can use their guns to easily commit mass shootings—whether the event is premeditated or committed in a moment of passion. So conservatives are contributing what they think is a solution, when in reality, it would actually make the underlying problem itself much worse.
Imagine, by analogy, that we had an epidemic of people in this country taking PCP and then going out in public to violently attack people. We decide to fight fire with fire and starting dosing people up with PCP in public so they can be better capable of meeting these violent attacks with a proportionate level of drug-enhanced violence. The problem is that the very act of getting more people high on PCP will inspire more of the very attacks that we're trying to defend against! So you'd be making things worse by doing this—not better.
I genuinely sympathize with and understand the mentality underlying this argument. If I was out in public and a mass shooting started taking place around me, in that moment, I would much rather have a gun than not have one to defend myself. Narrowly focusing only on what to do once the mass shooting has already begun, however, overlooks the much more important question of how to prevent mass shootings from occurring in the first place. It's really a question of being proactive versus being reactive.
It's one thing to fantasize about using your gun to save the day in a mass shooting; it's another thing to carefully perform a cost-benefit analysis of arming more people and allowing them to carry their guns in more locations. Do we care about play-acting as a hero, or do we care about actually saving lives?
Avery Gardiner, co-president of the Brady Campaign, made a great point on this subject:
"If having more guns in society worked to deter shootings, then America would have the lowest rate of gun violence of any developed country."
This is obviously not the case. As we saw in my previous video, there is a direct correlation in developed countries between the number of guns and the gun homicide rate—and also between the number of guns and gun deaths generally.
We also need to ask ourselves, during a mass shooting, how helpful would it truly be to have multiple individuals draw their weapons and try to take down the shooter?
Conservatives are like: "You know what would really cut back on gun deaths in this country? More crossfire."
Again, maybe it sounds good when we fantasize about the subject in our heads, but the real-world is not a picture-perfect action-movie script. It's one thing for a well-trained law enforcement official to draw his weapon and responsibly return fire, but for some random civilian with an unknown level of training? How do we know he's not gonna panic and have terrible aim that causes him to mistakenly shoot innocent people near his target? What if our good guy with a gun has a hair-trigger and accidentally shoots some fleeing person who runs around the corner and scares him?
What if, in the process of trying to move around the building and find the active shooter, he ends up misidentifying other "good guys with guns" and they end up shooting it out with each other, each one mistaking the other for the bad guy with a gun? How do we know that cops on scene won't mistake the good guy for the bad guy and accidentally shoot him—as has happened on several occasions?
NBCNews writes about
". . . an officer fatally shooting a black man who pulled out his legally permitted weapon following gunfire at a shopping mall.
. . . 'We can say with certainty Mr. Bradford brandished a gun during the seconds following the gunshots, which instantly heightened the sense of threat to approaching police officers responding to the chaotic scene,' the statement from the city of Hoover and its police department says."
Fear not, because they provide a very handy guide on how to be a good guy with a gun on USConcealedCarry.com:
"The best way to communicate that you are not a bad guy with a gun is to not look or act like a bad guy with a gun."
Fucking brilliant. Why didn't I think of that one?
Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence lays it out very nicely in a David Pakman Show interview:
". . . if we go back to the Aurora theater shooting, you know, when you're in a dark theater with smoke grenades going off, and you have, let's say, multiple people brandish firearms, let's say 1 of them is the mass shooter and you have maybe 2 or 3 other guys who brandish guns to be 'good guys,' it becomes very difficult in the fog of war in that moment to really divine who one should be shooting at. And obviously when you have a panic situation like that, which you would have in a theater or a classroom, you're gonna have people running for their lives, the odds of getting a perfectly clear shot at the shooter where you're not gonna do collateral damage is slim to none, I would think."
And here's what the Dallas Police Chief David Brown had to say about the subject:
"There's been the presumption that a good guy with a gun is the best way to resolve some of these things. Well, we don't know who the good guy is vs who the bad guy is if everybody starts shooting"
Calls to increase the number of good guys with guns brings to the forefront of the conversation one of the most difficult parts of handling gun violence in this country: Because guns are so prevalent and so easily accessible—because any deranged lunatic can go out and purchase a gun tomorrow—this puts other people in the awkward position of being at a tactical disadvantage if that lunatic tries to use his gun against them.
I was actually talking about this very subject with a friend the other day—and by friend, I mean somebody that I text political memes to, but never actually hang out with in real life. He acknowledges the absurdity of the gun situation in our country and says the only reason he has a gun is to defend himself and his family against other people with guns.
We live in a country where there's basically a constant, Cold War–style arms buildup taking place at the level of the individual—and this mindset of fearing other people with guns is a large part of why we have so many guns and gun deaths in this country. It creates a sort of Catch-22 where we just spiral deeper and deeper into oblivion, where the time at which we should be reducing the number of guns in this country is precisely the time when people go out and purchase more of them.
People hear about the constant mass shootings in America, they're afraid that it might happen to them, so they go out and buy a gun to defend themselves. The sad irony is that you're much more likely to be harmed by your defensive firearm than you are to be helped by it. According to nationwide numbers from the Violence Policy Center, for every 1 justified gun homicide in America, there are 84 gun suicides, 36 criminal gun homicides, and 2 deadly accidental discharges.
So the fear of gun violence motivates gun purchases—which ironically makes people more likely to be the victim of the very gun violence they're trying to protect against. Once again, we see that this approach is completely counter-productive. It'd be like having a fear of getting into a car crash which inspires you to drive faster and more frequently.
John ends his National Review article with one final coup de grace, a devastating question that he invites the gun-control advocate to ask themself:
"If you still agree with gun-control advocates about deterrence, ask yourself if you would post a sign on your home announcing it was a gun-free zone. So why do we post these signs at public locations? There's simply no good reason for it."
Would I post a sign on my house announcing that it was a gun-free zone? That depends, John; are we using my definition or your definition of a gun-free zone?—'cause if we're using yours, that sign would be practically fucking meaningless.
(A gun-toting burglar kicks down my door only to find that my apartment is filled with police officers, armed guards, Marines, and 18 individuals holding a gun of their own, and I'm like "What are you doin' in here, bro? Can't you see this is a gun-free zone?")
I'm actually seriously considering posting a "gun-free zone" sign on the front of my home so long as it'll keep you conservative morons out of my living room!
No, jokes aside, this is a fair question to ask the gun-control advocate, but again, I think John Lott is overlooking the core question here. My contention is that the sort of loosening of our gun laws that conservatives are calling for specifically to reduce mass shootings would actually increase the number of mass shootings—because more guns are in more people's hands in more locations—and it would also increase the number of all-cause gun deaths.
It's a losing strategy, and I think when all you focus on is the narrow question of "Will some people be deterred?", you're missing the big picture and you're not performing the kind of cost-benefit analysis that's required to seriously think about this subject. It's like, you're too busy staring at what's two feet in front of you when all around you are much more important details that you're not even paying attention to. Talk about the need for a background check!
It's also worth asking, how often do armed individuals actually employ their weapon to stop active shooters? Incidents in which a gun-toting civilian draws and even uses their weapon to stop a mass shooting receive great fanfare in the conservative community—but the simple fact is that such events are extremely rare.
The FBI examined 160 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013. Technically I'm not sure if every one of these was a mass shooting, but there was an average of 3 deaths and 3.5 injuries per event.
In only 5 cases—or 3% of the time—"the shooting ended after armed individuals who were not law enforcement personnel exchanged gunfire with the shooters." In four of these cases, the individuals were armed security guards—so there was literally only 1 out 160 cases where it was an armed civilian who put a stop to an active shooter.
Interestingly enough, in 21 of the incidents—or 13% of them—it was actually unarmed citizens who "safely and successfully restrained the shooter." So perhaps, contra-conservatives, what we really need are more good guys without a gun?
Another problem with this "good guys with guns" argument is the implication that we'll have some reliable filtering system that will only put guns in the hands of good people and keep them out of the hands of those who are dangerous. Conservatives—and especially conservative lawmakers—tend to be against the sort of common-sense gun regulations that would actually help accomplish this goal—things like universal background checks, mental health screenings, and extensive safety training as a prerequisite to gun ownership.
I would argue that you can't have one without the other—certainly not without very strict regulations. More guns in the hands of more people isn't just this one-sided, rosy picture that conservatives paint of more responsible, upstanding citizens owning guns for the sole purpose of bravely protecting the public; it also means more guns in the hands of morons and scumbags, more guns in the hands of people who aren't necessarily evil but nonetheless are going to use that gun to needlessly kill somebody in a moment of passion.
It means more guns used to escalate what otherwise would have just been a very minor scuffle into deadly force, more guns in the hands of men who will murder their girlfriend in an act of domestic violence, more guns in households that are irresponsibly handled or stored and accidentally discharged, and again, more guns in the hands of people who will ultimately use them to commit mass shootings.
Conservatives seem to be defining more guns as intrinsically good because they only focus on the minor benefits of more gun ownership—overlooking and ignoring the vastly greater downsides that come with it.
In their perennial effort to suggest everything but increased gun control after a mass shooting, some conservatives will argue that what we really need is more security at public locations. After the Parkland mass shooting, for example, Ben Shapiro suggested the following on Fox News:
"I think the first thing that has to be done is obviously security at these schools needs to be radically escalated. . . . Armed security does make a difference, and having lots of security guards at these schools would be a welcome thing. I think students should have their IDs checked when they walk onto campus."
This is really just another species of the "more good guys with guns to protect us" argument. I'm not opposed, in principle, to the idea of armed security keeping people safe, but we have to ask whether this would actually be an effective tool in our fight against mass shootings.
As we saw earlier, there are examples of mass shooters who deliberately avoided areas with armed security and instead targeted those where they weren't as concerned about armed resistance. But there are also plenty of examples of mass shooters who weren't bothered by the prospect of armed resistance—and perhaps even sought it out in some cases, where a sort of "suicide by cop" in one last guns-blazing hurrah is their goal.
Even with armed security or police nearby, people, in large numbers, are still going to die in mass shootings. The recent shooting in Dayton, Ohio, is a perfect example of this. Police were on site and managed to kill the shooter within 30 seconds of the first shot being fired. You could hardly ask for a better police response. In those 30 seconds, however, he still managed to fire 41 shots, kill 9 people, and directly injure another 14.
Also consider the many instances where armed security or police sat on their hands during a mass shooting. Walker Bragman of the Huffington Post writes that
"Columbine High School had an armed guard during the shooting in 1999 and Virginia Tech had its own campus police force, and in neither case did these good guys stop the shooter(s)."
And who can forget the Parkland police officer who did everything he could think of except confront the active shooter? He stood around, talked on his radio, went for a little drive in his golf-cart—he was even about to hit the Taco Bell drive-thru before backup finally arrived!
If you just run the numbers on this question and ask, how many armed guards would we need to station in public, you find that it's a totally unworkable solution. The rule of thumb in America is as follows: Wherever a mass shooting can take place, it probably already has—and if not, it soon will in the future.
Tallying up the number of schools, churches, theaters, bars, supermarkets, and restaurants, we arrive at a number of 1,217,000 locations in need of armed security. And this is leaving out the many other categories of public locations where mass shootings can take place at. You would have to hire literally millions, if not tens of millions of such guards—in the process turning America into a sort of quasi–police state.
And again, this wouldn't even guarantee our safety; it would just mean that when mass shootings break out, assuming the guards are competent and effective, not quite as many people would be brutally killed.
None other than John Lott himself pointed out the insufficiency of the "armed guard" solution:
"Stationing a uniformed police officer or security guard in a public area often only gives a false sense of security. Knowing that the uniformed officer is the only person with a gun makes things quite simple for attackers. They need only kill him first. It is the equivalent of having them with a neon sign saying 'shoot me first.'"
Things get really weird when Shapiro says: "I think students should have their IDs checked when they walk onto campus," as if that would somehow reduce the number of mass shootings in this country.
Really, dude? You think that's what missing in our fight against mass shootings? Checking IDs on campus? This suggestion is absurd for so many different reasons. How would this stop a registered student from committing a mass shooting? The Virginia Tech shooter, for example, would've skated right through this so-called "security measure". And at the very least, if you're gonna check students for anything, check them for a fucking gun—not an ID, you idiot.
Just imagine the ridiculous logistics of a policy like this. Many campuses can be entered from really any point around the entire perimeter—whether by foot, car, or bike—so for an expansive campus like the University of Kansas, for example, this would require literally hundreds, if not thousands of checkpoints. What are we gonna do? Fence in the entire campus and funnel people through only a few locations just so we can check their IDs and be like "Yup! You're a student!" There is zero deterrent value in doing this to begin with—and in a conversation about what should be done to prevent mass shootings, is this really the second-best idea that Shapiro can come up with?
Some insane person wearing body armor rolls up to campus with a shotgun and they're like: "Wait a minute... Do you go to school here?"
He's like: "Yeah."
They're like: "Oh, ok. Carry on."
Peak Shapiro is reached when he goes on to support the idea of arming teachers in schools:
"Interviewer: I guess the idea is, if a shooter were to walk into a classroom, you just don't know who in the school is carrying a gun.
Shapiro: Yeah, and I think that would be a great solution. I mean, you're trusting your safety to the teachers anyway every single day when you send your kids to school, and we're telling these teachers that it's better for them to jump in front of doors and block bullets with their body than to arm these same teachers so they can actually defend the students? It makes zero sense."
No, it's actually your arguments that make zero sense, Ben. Look at the glaring false dichotomy he sets up here: Either we arm teachers to properly defend students, or we support teachers pathetically jumping in front of doors and blocking bullets with their body. He frames the conversation in such a way that it makes his position look like the superior one—but he's really missing the big picture here.
Maybe—just maybe—what what we actually support is reducing access to the guns used in mass shootings so that teachers aren't put into the awkward position of having to protect students against a hail of bullets in the first place!
And he's like: "Well, we already trust teachers with our children anyway!"
Yeah, we trust them to grade their math homework or teach them chemistry—not handle .45 calibre handguns around them all day long. I wouldn't want some dumbass troublemaker to break into his desk while he's in the bathroom and get ahold of his handgun. I wouldn't want the teacher to drop his gun on the ground and trigger a misfire which shoots a student in the face. I wouldn't want a dubiously-trained, out-of-shape teacher with a gun holstered on his hip putting himself in the middle of two fighting students, one of which could easily grab the gun and use it in a moment of hormonal rage.
There's over 300,000 schools in this country, and who knows how many millions of classrooms. That would be a lot of guns and a lot of opportunities where things could go wrong. Call me crazy, but introducing millions of deadly weapons into rooms full of children doesn't sound like the most brilliant way to reduce gun violence in this country.
Calls for increased armed security and more "good guys with guns" are simply not good enough. The conservative seems to accept these mass shootings as an inevitable part of life in this country—and the best they can seem to come up with is having other armed people around to quickly kill him once the bloodbath starts so that the death-toll doesn't reach too horrendously high in each mass shooting event. This is just not an acceptable solution.
So much of the conservative framing around this conversation is about what we should do once the mass shooting begins, after the bodies have already started dropping. Our efforts instead need to be on preventing these atrocities from occurring in the first place—by making it harder for people to purchase a gun, implementing longer wait times, having more-thorough and restrictive background checks, eliminating gun-sale loopholes, increasing mental healthcare funding, making it easier to take guns away from people deemed a potential threat to those around them, and restricting the types of guns, ammunition, and firearm accessories that people can buy in this country. That is how you actually cut back on the number of mass shootings that take place.
Proposing that we arm more people who can then turn a bloodbath into a shootout just isn't going to solve the mass shooting problem in this country. All this would do is increase our already sky-high number of gun deaths each year in many different ways—and also increase the number of mass shootings.