Elen sila lumenn omentielvo!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My only thought on the Colorado Shootings

Actually, this isn't my only thought on the subject, but it's the only one that I feel like posting, as my remaining thoughts are conflicted, given my longstanding general support of Second Amendment rights (although I don't rise nearly to the belief, widespread though it seems to be, that the Second enshrines the most important of all rights by a towering margin -- in fact, I'm not even convinced that the Second Amendment even says what most people think it says) and my equally longstanding squeamishness when it comes to guns (in short, I've never fired one, never held one, and want no part of either).

But anyway, whenever something like this happens, one meme that pops up a lot is the "If someone in that theater, just one person, was packing a gun, this awful thing might not have happened." Whenever I read that, I don't hear it as an argument for more people toting guns. What I hear is this: "If I had been in that theater with my gun, you can bet that I would have taken that guy down!"

Which is, of course, complete nonsense. From everything I've ever read and learned about these things, this stuff is hard. It's hard even for military sharpshooters to do their job, even with tons of training that Joe Blow Sittin'-in-a-dark-theater-with-a-9mm-in-his-pants almost certainly does not have. I would wager that, of all the people in this country with legal carry-and-conceal permits, the percent of those who would be able to do something with their gun in that situation other than just contribute to the chaos with more bullets flying around is vanishingly small.

One lunatic blasting away is bad enough. Throw in a few pseudo-Rambo's? Ugh.


Chris said...

There were real heroes there, though. A 26-year-old Navy veteran threw his body across the body of a girlfriend to protect her and was shot and killed. The police officers who took the suspect into custody alive. And so on.

Good post on a really senseless tragedy.

LC Scotty said...

Armed individuals intervening in mass shootings resulting in lower numbers of casualties is not unheard of. Some examples are here: http://www.saysuncle.com/2007/12/10/mass_murderers_v_armed_citizens-2/

There was another on (in Aurora, no less) just a few months ago.

So, generally speaking, yes-an armed individual in mass shootings can make a difference.

This case, however,is being described as a Kobayashi Maru. Dark theater, dark clad shooter, tear gas, Shooter armed with a rifle, innocents running every which way at a variety of elevations, adjacent rooms also packed with people. Oh, and the shooter is wearing body armor meaning even if you could place perfect center mass rounds, all you're going to do is draw fire yourself.

Unless the armed citizen was in a very narrow segment of the theater (close to shooter, away from tear gas and behind shooter so he's backlit), it's doubtful that person could have made a difference. With 70 people shot, it's tough to see how it could have gotten much worse as well.

Finally-standing offer to you or anyone else: If you've never shot before and curiousity ever gets the better of you, it's on me. I'll provide firearms, targets, safety gear, ammo and range fees. All you have to do is show up willing to learn.

Chris said...

Okay, LC Scotty and others like him pissed me off so badly I wrote a response post:


I am a gun owner. I have no fear of guns and enjoy shooting them, including big guns like ARs. I own two handguns and a rifle and my husband owns a Glock.

But I'm also part of the campaign to end gun violence. The attitude of "if I feel threatened, I should whip out my gun" kills far, far more people in this country than that shooter did. That attitude is sick and worrisome.

LC Scotty said...

I am confused-I point out that it is very unlikely that an armed citizen could have made a difference (I am presuming that you are familiar with the Kobayashi Maru-the no win scenario) and that makes mad enough to write a post saying that an armed citizen probably could not have made a difference?

It sounds like we are in agreement, actually.

Chris said...

No, I'm upset that people seem to think that guns can prevent violence, an argument that you appear to support.

I'm also upset that people are forgetting that a group of heroes in this tragedy - the police officers - are people who had guns and didn't shoot. The gunman is alive because the officers didn't shoot.

I think that's a pretty flawed logic that someone owns a gun to "protect" themselves and others against violence. The vast majority of gun violence that isn't suicide occurs because people feel "threatened" and "protect" themselves against the threat.

It's not only a dangerous attitude that kills innocent people - see Zimmerman and Martin for evidence of that - it causes the violence that threatens the right of gun ownership.

LC Scotty said...


I don't have a lot of time right now to dig up links, but I'm going to put some things out here that I can substantiate later.

1) Defensive gun use is a lot more prevalent than I think you think it is. NCVS (lowest credible estimate with reasons to believe it under-reports) puts the annual number of defensive gun uses at about 80k/year. A large number (13?) of other studies put the number between 800k and 3 million. 1-2 million is probably the best estimate. Compare that to 10k firearms homicides per year (8800 in 2010) and it's clear that guns are used in lawful defense far, far more often that for criminal misuse.

2) The majority of firearms homicides (60-70%) are committed by people with extensive criminal histories. Many of these individuals do not lawfully possess their firearms, and the murders are typically connected to other crimes, gang turf wars etc.

3) GAO puts the number of concealed carry permit holders at just under 8 million. That is a huge number of people carrying firearms around for protection.

Chris said...

Thanks for the comments - could you link to your sources?

I'm particularly interested in what qualifies as "defensive gun uses," and whether or not guns were completely unnecessary for self-defense. I do believe backing down and leaving is the #1 way to prevent a potentially violent circumstance from escalating.

We could argue whether or not people who live in gang-ridden neighborhoods feel they are acting in justified self defense. Research by programs such as Albany SNUG and Chicago Ceasefire suggests that people's perception that they have to defend their turf is part of urban gun violence.

But the FBI statistics on homicide are the most compelling to me:


In an average year there are approximately 15,000 homicides, the vast majority of which are by gun violence. Approximately 5,000 of the 15,000 are instigated by an unknown cause.

Of the remaining 10,000 with known causes, felony type (rape, robbery, burglary, etc.) are very rare, and are only about 20% of the murders.

The rest - about 7,000 - are largely due to arguments that got out of control. Romantic triangles, fighting while under the influence and over property or arguments with unknown cause are about 4000-4500, or about 40-45% of all homicide with known cause. The rest are largely unspecified nonfelony (about 2000.)

So the FBI says that when there's a label on the crime, the majority aren't criminal per se, but arguments that for whatever reason got out of control. That says to me that someone felt threatened or angry and pulled out his or her weapon in fear and/or anger.

LC Scotty said...


This links to the oft cited Kleck/Gertz study (2.5 million DGU/year) that also looks back at other studies. You will also find links to scolars critical of Kleck's work and his responses.


A collection of studies looking at criminal pasts of murderers, various data sets and time frames.

One thing to keep in mind-criminals have homes, families and acquaintances. When a person with a violent criminal history gets involved in an argument with a friend over property, it can turn to homicide. it would show up not a related to crime, but as an argument.


You do raise an excellent point-avoidance and de-escalation are our friends. "Play stupid games, win stupid prizes" and all that. I don't know if you're familiar with Rory Miller, but I can't recommend his book "Facing Violence" highly enough.


Roger Owen Green said...

Kelly, so happy to see your blog hijacked. It happens to me occasionally. So much easier than YOU being in the debate. (I'm not being sarcastic here; I love the debate, but don't always have the energy or the time to engage in it myself.)

Chris said...

@ Roger:

I was hesitant to respond because I wasn't sure Kelly was okay with a thread hijack.

@ Scotty:

I looked through some of the links. I cite the FBI source directly in an easy-to-read table. You cite a blog that cites itself that cites itself.

It does really link to a GAO report (here http://www.gao.gov/assets/600/592552.pdf ), but that GAO report doesn't say anything about the approximate uses for defense - although it's also 90 pages long.

If you can link easily to real data that has some accountability attached, I'm very interested in that.

But the FBI says my side - that the attitude of "I will whip my gun out in an argument/ I'll use it to defend myself" kills most people with guns - is correct.

To me that's not a sound argument for banning guns. However, it might be a very sound argument for things like requiring gun training and classes on gun safety before issuing licenses.

I'm not against guns. I love guns. But we have to be realistic about them. I use a car, too, and I wouldn't like it if people used cars irresponsibly or people who didn't know how to drive a car were given licenses.

Kelly Sedinger said...

You folks are being respectful of each other and you're all on topic, so it's not even a hijack, as far as I can see. Keep calm and carry on!