The Absurdity of the Armament Argument
It’s been a summer of shootings. Every week it seems another college, high school or graduate student, office worker or any other angry man (its always been men) takes, buys or steals a weapon and publicly kills those they hate, those they resent or those they just can’t stand. According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, there have been over twenty-five mass shootings in the United States this year (The list only includes shootings where at least 3 people were injured or killed) and over one hundred school shootings since Columbine. The Aurora Theater in Colorado, the Oak Creek Sikh Temple, Perry High School in Maryland and a bar in Tuscaloosa, Alabama are just the most recent.
The responses of the gun-toting NRA members has been quite predictable: had the citizens of Colorado or Maryland or any other state been allowed to carry weapons, the argument goes, the deranged shooter would have been shot dead without causing too much carnage. The “let’s all arm” argument seems compelling. After all, who would rob a firearms store?
Amazingly, Colorado University has assented to this line of reasoning and now students can take weapons across campus, in laboratories, lecture halls and academic offices as long as they have a license to carry a concealed weapon. The students who successfully challenged the university’s gun ban alleged that they can prevent rogue shooters because they can shoot before they get shot. The armament argument has been rehashed after every mass-shooting event: after Virginia Tech, after the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords and after the Sikh Temple shootings in Wisconsin.
However, the argument flies in the face of reality. In real life, it turns out it’s not so simple to stop a shooter. In the chaotic scene of a mass shooting, it’s not always wise to return fire and even the best shooters can’t stop an attack without hurting and possibly killing innocent bystanders.
Five blocks from our downtown campus and just days before classes began, a disturbed office worker fulfilled a highly personal vendetta by killing his co-worker. The media took notice not because the event was unusual—shootings are tragically a de rigor element of hot summers in New York—but because it happened on the sidewalk of the Empire State Building. The videos were gory, eyewitness testimony disturbing but, as usual, we moved on.
What stood out was the collateral damage inflicted by responding officers trying to stop Jeffery Johnson. Nine innocent bystanders were shot in the crossfire, all by the police. Standing a mere eight feet away, the officers’ hit rates were 43.75 percent, yet three bystanders were hit with direct shots, the others with ricochet bullets. But let’s not forget the advanced marksmanship training, on the job experience and professional judgment of those NYPD officers. If say, concealed pistol carrier John Doe, with basic firearms training like most card-carrying NRA-ers, responded instead of the police, it’s likely that many more people would have been hurt.
Imagine three men carried concealed guns to the theater on that fateful night in Aurora. A man in tactical clothing walks in but seems to be wearing a costume like other audience members. He starts shooting. But the disorder of gunshots during a shooting scene in the theater makes it hard to discern who’s shooting whom. Instead of one deranged shooter there now seem to be four. Police receive reports of four active shooters instead of three. Instead of saving lives, many more lives are lost.
But you don’t have to imagine how bystanders could be hurt to realize how dangerous it would be to arm America. Look at the statistics.
According to Police One newspaper, the hit probability of trained officers under the stress of real shooting situations is never more than fifty percent in the best conditions. Add more than two officers in a low light situation and the average hit ratio is only 9 percent. In other words, had there been trained police officers in the Aurora Theater, over 90 percent of their bullets would have missed James Eagan Holmes, and would have likely hit others.
The terrifying arguments proposed by gun enthusiasts belie reality and common sense. Fear not only of shooters, but of wild bullets shot in a well-meaning but ultimately reckless vigilante firefight will become the new normal, just as we have acclimatized ourselves to 32 murders by guns every day in the United States. If the goal is safety for innocent civilians we should be disarming America, not authorizing the bearing of arms in our public university campuses, malls, and public parks. Most importantly, we should rid ourselves of the notion that more guns means more safety.