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Guns don't kill people … but cops might


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“Mass Shooting at Empire State Building,” the headlines blared.

“Two dead and nine wounded in rampage shooting,” we were told.

And these reports about the “mass shooting” almost always included some reference to this “latest mass shooting,” rekindling the debate over gun laws in our country. Even after it became apparent that the “gunman” had probably shot only one person, a former employer who he had threatened a year earlier – and that the rest of the victims were shot by police – the news stories and pundits continued to refer to this “latest mass shooting” and postulating on how politicians would or should respond.

According to New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, after the murderer had shot his victim repeatedly in the face and head, he calmly walked away. Two nearby police officers quickly responded and, when they challenged the suspect, he pointed his gun at them, but, Kelly said, he did not fire at them.

Witness accounts report that the two officers performed what is known in the shooting world as a “magazine dump,” rapidly emptying their guns in the general direction of the criminal, killing him and wounding all or most of the nine other victims. Thankfully, none of the wounds were thought to be life-threatening.

Even hours after it was clear that all or most of those wounded in the incident were actually shot by police, reporters and commentators continued referring to the “mass shooting” and equating the New York shooting with the recent tragedy in Aurora, Co., and the assault at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. They frequently decried the nation’s lax gun laws as the obvious culprit, generating lively and inane debate in the comments sections of online news sources.

Opponents of gun rights spouted nonsense about the National Rifle Association and “gun nuts” wanting everyone to carry a gun, and how much worse the tragedy would have been if citizens had all started blasting away (like the police did). In response, misguided supporters of gun rights repeated idiotic claims about armed citizens putting an end to these kinds of atrocities.

First, this was not a “mass shooting.” This was a cold-blooded, pre-meditated murder. The only “mass shooting” associated with this crime was perpetrated by New York’s finest.

Second, no gun-control law ever devised would have been likely to prevent this murder. The murderer used a gun he had legally purchased and had owned for over 20 years. If he had not had the gun, he might just as well have used a knife or a car or a pop bottle full of gasoline and a Bic lighter.

Third, neither the NRA nor any other firearms organization has ever advocated for all citizens to carry guns at all times. Gun-rights proponents support individual liberty and the right of the individual to decide whether to own or carry firearms. There is a contingent that believes there is a civic duty for responsible citizens to be prepared to serve in the militia if called upon to do so, by having access to, and reasonable skill with, arms. That’s a far cry from advocating that everyone carry a gun.

Fourth, responsible gun owners do not assume that they or any other armed citizen would be able to defeat any threat that presented itself, just because they are carrying a gun. They understand that crisis situations are unpredictable and that a gun is not always the best answer.

The armed citizen that helped to subdue the murderer in the Tucson shooting where Rep. Gabby Giffords was wounded is a great example. He responded to the gunfire by moving toward the shooting and being prepared to draw his gun, but wisely kept it holstered. He left it holstered even when he saw a man in the crowd holding a gun, and instead physically subdued the man. When he realized that the man with the gun was a “good guy” who had wrested the gun from the murderer, he assisted in physically restraining the killer.

As I reported at the time, in all of the “what if” scenarios bandied about by both sides of the firearms debate, this comes closest to answering the questions posed. The “untrained” gun carrier didn’t shoot the good guy or any innocent bystanders. He didn’t wave his gun around and get shot by a cop, and had the murderer not been thwarted in his attempt to reload, the armed citizen would have been in an excellent position to have stopped the attack before many more lives were lost.

Finally, there are some 60 to 80 million gun owners in the United States who own close to 300 million guns, and approximately 0.01% of those guns is used to kill someone in a given year – with over half of those being suicides and a good many of the rest being justified shootings by police or people defending themselves. The vast majority of the rest are gang-bangers and drug dealers killing each other.

Baltimore police report that over 90 percent of murderers arrested and 80 percent of murder victims in that city in 2011 had criminal records. The FBI says guns are used in crime a half million times a year, but Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck reports that guns are used defensively over 2.5 million times each year – usually without a shot being fired.

Also, of those 300 million guns, almost a quarter of them are semi-automatics capable of accepting magazines with 10 or more rounds. These types of guns have been common for over 100 years, and the only difference between those made 100 years ago and those popular today are that the newer ones are a little lighter, usually significantly less powerful and scarier (cooler) looking. A magazine – “high capacity” or otherwise – is little more than a box with a spring in it. It is not difficult or complicated to make or modify one.

The point is that there are lots and lots of guns out there. They are never going to go away, and relatively few of them are ever used for evil purposes, while they are 5 times more likely to be used for justified defense. If guns were one tenth the threat to society that the hoplophobes claim, the death toll would be a thousand times greater than it actually is and everyone in the nation would be dead.

The media bias against guns and gun ownership was on blatant display this week, as was the anti-rights crowd’s inclination to dance in the blood of victims – even when the victims’ blood was actually shed by poorly trained police officers. But again, the gun didn’t cause the crime, and no gun law would have prevented it.

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