If Only Someone Else Had Had a Gun
It’s a common fantasy repeated endlessly by gun enthusiasts. When you get a crazy person who walks into a crowd and starts shooting people, some of us begin to question the overly-lax gun laws and start suggesting that at least some reasonable, even ridiculously mild form of gun control–you know, like allowing clips that hold only ten bullets instead of thirty so crazy people can only shoot a more limited number of people. At which point the enthusiasts disagree (some vehemently), and that’s when they bring up the fantasy.
“It’s too bad that one of the victims wasn’t armed, or better yet, all of them,” they lament. They envision a scenario in which a shooter would immediately meet return fire and be taken down before many people got hurt. After the shooting in Arizona, local congressman Trent Franks deplored, “I wish there had been one more gun in Tucson.”
The reality is much more complicated. The fact is, there was an armed citizen nearby when Loughner began his shooting spree in Arizona; the man immediately grabbed his gun, ran to the scene of the shooting–and very nearly shot one of the people who was subduing the gunman. This was not some frazzled dimwit, but someone who seemed to know their way around a gun, who seemed completely reasonable and responsible.
As if to back up the point, in Detroit yesterday, a gunman walked into a building filled with people and opened fire, shooting one man in the back and hitting three others before someone returned fire and killed the man. You might think that this is the fantasy situation fulfilled–that there was an armed person nearby who was able to return fire. In a sense, this is true: the building was a police station. There were lots of armed people there. And yet, four people got shot before someone returned fire, and the situation was less than controlled:
“Utter chaos and pandemonium took place,” Police Chief Ralph Godbee said at a news conference. “We have a number of officers who are shaken up.”
Even when nearly everyone in the room is armed, a gunman can still do a great amount of damage. Even trained, experienced police officers do not always react like the hero-fantasy expects. If a room full of professional gun-bearers reacted like that to random gun violence, can we really expect randomly armed citizens to do much better?
Also keep in mind that in the Detroit case, the gunman did not even have as deadly a gun as Loughner did. Furthermore, these are scenarios where the gunman comes in and starts firing with no thought to protecting himself. If the gunman has even the slightest ability to plan ahead and work out a scenario more complex than “walk in and start shooting,” he could potentially employ strategies that would allow him to do even more harm against rooms filled with armed people.
As for arming everyone, let’s also remember that there are few places which require a gun owner to train in the use of the weapon or to take even rudimentary safety instruction. Is it ever a good idea to suggest that more untrained people go around armed? We would not imagine allowing people to drive cars without going through at least basic instruction and testing, and most Americans value their right to own and drive a car more than they would to own a gun. Yet few question the wisdom of training, licensing, and registration where motor vehicles are concerned.
As has been pointed out:
A panel of criminology and statistics experts with the National Research Council the National Academies published a study in 2004 that found no reduced crime in states with right-to-carry (RTC) laws.
A 2010 study from Stanford Law School found that “the most consistent, albeit not uniform, finding to emerge from the array of models is that aggravated assault rises when RTC laws are adopted.”
Now, before anyone gets on their high horse, I do not advocate gun bans. (Most gun enthusiasts immediately jump to that conclusion even when the opposite is clearly pointed out; it’s the knee-jerk straw-man argument.) But I do advocate firm, reasonable gun control, of a nature that minimizes any impact on the law-abiding citizen but maximizes impact on those who would purchase guns for illicit use. As has been pointed out, at the very least, we know that lives would have been saved had Loughner been restricted to a 10-bullet clip rather than a 30-bullet clip; the larger-capacity clip had been banned before the Republican congress let it die, and let’s face it–it is the epitome of the reasonable gun control law. No hunter or home protector needs a 30-bullet clip, it’s an accessory for people who are either too lazy to reload more often, or for people who want to kill the largest number of human beings before they have to pause before killing more.
I also question the legitimacy of the assumption that simply putting more guns in the hands of more people more of the time–especially when there is no mandatory safety training–will result in less violence. Something about that just doesn’t ring true for some reason.
Right now, a lot of the people who would still defend preventing even eminently reasonable gun control measures say that it’s about controlling the gunman, not the gun. The problem is, Loughner should have been denied the ability to buy guns and ammunition–it’s not like his unbalanced state was a secret or anything–but the same people who fight reasonable gun control measures also fight against laws which would, in fact, control the crazy people who fire guns at crowds of people. Background checks, mental instability provisions, efficient networks to register and keep track of such individuals, and other checks that could have at least slowed Loughner down are just as hated by the gun crowd, who argue that such laws either inconvenience them or could be abused by the government to disarm normal law-abiding folk.
Having armed people nearby could–potentially–save lives, if those people are properly trained. It almost certainly did in the Detroit police station. However, having more guns around is not always the best way to deal with the problem, and reasonable gun control laws are probably a much better idea.