Over at The Maddow Blog, Laura Conaway has a blog post asking if anybody knows of any incidents in which an armed bystander has prevented or mitigated a mass shooting. She points out, “One of the arguments for loosening gun laws, or at least against tightening them, is that armed bystanders can help stop mass shootings.”
She then goes on to cite the example of the 1997 Pearl High School shooting, in which the gunman was captured by a vice principal who retrieved a gun from his car, and asks, “Are there other instances like this in modern times, where an armed bystander interrupted or prevented a mass shooting, or caught the shooter?…I’m looking for instances that took place in public, with a mass shooter, and with a hero who was neither law enforcement nor paid security.”
I skimmed a few of the follow-up comments. It all looked very familiar: Someone points to the shootings at the Appalachia School of Law and New Life Church. Somebody else responds by pointing out that there is conflicting testimony about who actually subdued the Appalachia shooter and by noting that the woman who stopped the New Life shooter had law enforcement experience. Then somebody else jumps in and claims that the presence of someone else with a gun would just make a mass shooting worse (a silly argument that’s thoroughly rebutted here). There is a predictable pattern to this type of discussion.
The truth is that right-to-carry advocates don’t have one incident that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that an armed citizen with no law enforcement or military experience can stop a mass shooting in progress (though there are plenty of examples of armed citizens stopping other types of crimes). The few incidents that come close each contain some aspect that opponents can point to as justification for proclaiming, “That doesn’t count.”
- The gunman at Pearl High School in Pearl, Mississippi, had already stopped shooting when the vice principal caught him trying to escape. According to some reports, authorities later learned that the gunman planned to drive to another school and continue his rampage there.
- Witness testimony differs on whether or not the gunman at the Appalachia School of Law surrendered before or after the two armed students arrived on the scene. Like the principal at Pearl High School, they had to fetch their guns from their cars.
- The concealed handgun license holder who shot the gunman at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, had—years before—worked as a police officer. However, she was not, as some media outlets mistakenly reported, a paid or licensed security guard.
Of course, when viewed from a historical perspective, suggesting that newspaper archives should be filled with stories of citizens stopping mass shootings is more than a little silly because the VAST majority of mass shootings over the past thirty years have occurred in locations where citizens weren’t allowed to carry guns. If someone other than a law enforcement officer or paid security guard had stopped one of those shootings, it would have been a unique example of a criminal heroically stopping a lunatic.
Many people are surprised to learn that it wasn’t until 1996 that gun-friendly Texas began (for the first time since the post-Civil War period of Reconstruction) allowing citizens to carry handguns.
Following the 1991 Luby’s massacre in Killeen, Texas, Dr. Suzanna Gratia Hupp—one of the survivors—testified that up until a few months prior to the shooting, she’d carried a gun in her purse, for personal protection. But because it was illegal for anyone other than a law enforcement officer to carry a handgun in the state of Texas, and because she was afraid that a felony conviction might cost her the chiropractic license for which she’d worked so hard, she decided that the risk of being caught with the gun outweighed the minuscule chance that she might actually need it for protection. So, she stopped carrying it.
About a minute after the shooting started, she and her parents were hiding behind an overturned table, watching the gunman execute innocent victim after innocent victim. Seeing that the assailant was facing away from her and that she had a clear shot at him, Dr. Hupp instinctively reached inside her purse, for a gun that wasn’t there.
With no other recourse available, her father tried to rush the gunman. When Mr. Hupp was just a few steps away, the gunman casually turned and shot him in the chest. A moment later, somebody broke out a window, and Dr. Hupp managed to escape. Sadly, her mother wasn’t so fortunate.
A few years later, Dr. Hupp told the Texas Legislature that her parents might still be alive if Texas law hadn’t given the assailant a distinct advantage over everyone else in the restaurant. The State of Texas decided to start issuing concealed handgun licenses.
When Texas’s right-to-carry law passed, the modern age of “shall-issue” concealed handgun licensing, which started in Florida in 1987, was only about eight years old (view an animated timeline here). Because the concept of licensing citizens to carry concealed handguns still seemed relatively unproven, there was some concern that the whole thing might backfire and lead to blood in the streets. In response to such concerns, the Texas Legislature put several safeguards in place. One of the safeguards was the establishment of certain “sensitive areas” where concealed carry would not be allowed; the idea being that if concealed carry were to go wrong, at least it wouldn’t go wrong in places like churches and hospitals.
Then, in 1999, a gunman killed seven people at a Baptist church in Fort Worth. Again, questions were raised about why citizens weren’t allowed the means to defend themselves. And again, Texas amended its laws, this time trimming the list of places where concealed handgun license holders were prohibited from carrying guns.
Time and time again, mass shooting after mass shooting has shown Dr. Hupp and others who’ve taken up the right-to-carry mantra to be right: Declaring an unsecured area (any location without metal detectors and controlled points of entry) a “gun free” zone serves no purpose but to stack the odds against law-abiding citizens who might otherwise be able to defend themselves and in favor of dangerous lunatics who have no regard for either the rule of law or the sanctity of human life.
Fifteen years after the passage of Texas’s concealed handgun licensing law, the rate of concealed handgun licensure in Texas is approximately 1.6%. Yet, despite one person out of every 62 being licensed to carry a concealed handgun, a Texan is twenty times more likely to be struck by lightning than to be killed by a concealed handgun license holder. And Texas Department of Public Safety statistics show that concealed handgun license holders are approximately five times less likely than others to commit a violent crime. Decades after Florida first passed shall-issue licensing, every peer-reviewed study on the subject—including studies by the National Academy of Sciences and the Harvard Injury Control Research Center—has concluded that that lawful concealed carry cannot be shown to lead to an increase in either violent crime or gun deaths.
Simply put, there is no evidence that concealed carry makes things any worse, so what right do opponents have to demand proof that it makes things better? A free society always places the burden of proof on those seeking the denial of a right and only denies the people a right if there is empirical evidence that granting it will do more harm than denying it. Where is the evidence that allowing concealed carry does more harm than prohibiting it?
NOTE: Students for Concealed Carry on Campus and CampusCarry.com advocate only for licensed concealed carry on college campuses. Neither SCCC nor CampusCarry.com has any official position on unlicensed carry, open carry, or concealed carry at primary and secondary schools.