Thank goodness for the “good guy with a gun.”
So goes the narrative pushed by Second Amendment absolutists, citing reports that an armed civilian confronted the shooter who massacred 26 people at a Texas church on Sunday, exchanging gunfire with the killer and chasing him into the next county.
Authorities believe the suspect, Devin Kelley, later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The unnamed neighbour who reportedly shot at Kelley was being hailed by local law enforcement as a “hero” in Sutherland Springs, Tex. and gun-rights activists erupted with expressions of vindication.
“The fact is, this shooter was stopped in his tracks by a civilian, an armed good guy,” John Valleco, director of operations for the Gun Owners of America (GOA), a conservative gun-lobbying group, said from Springfield, Va.
“Unfortunately, it was after [the shooter] already massacred children and women and elderly, but it’s hard to say what more damage he had intended. Maybe he was going to back into the church; maybe he was going to go to another church.”
Valleco, who lives in Virginia, where people can openly carry guns in public, said it’s “a sad reality” that places of worship are becoming susceptible to gun violence. He said he “wouldn’t think about not” carrying his firearm into his own church if it meant potentially defending himself and others.
If the Gun Owners of America had their way, more law-abiding American civilians would arm themselves, perpetuating a premise articulated by National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
But researchers have rejected the “good guy” scenario as a cowboy hero fantasy with a rare rate of success.
An FBI report on “active shooter” incidents between 2000 and 2013 found that armed civilians who were not law enforcement helped in only five of the 160 events in that 13-year period, accounting for 3.1 per cent of incidents.
Stanford Law School researcher John Donahue, who studies right-to-carry laws, found that in a 37-year data analysis, states that adopted right-to-carry concealed handgun laws saw a 13 to 15 per cent rise in violent crime from estimated crime levels a decade after the new laws were enacted.
When asked whether more openly armed citizens could just cause more confusion or panic in an active shooting, GOA’s Valleco spoke with an easy confidence.
“The bad guy,” he said, “is the one shooting innocent people.”
Gun-control activists argue that the best scenario in Texas would have been if nobody was armed in the first place.
Legislation, not more guns, is often touted by gun-control groups as a better solution to protecting Americans from gun violence like what happened in Texas. Sunday’s tragedy is the fifth-worst mass shooting in the nation’s modern history.
Texas authorities noted that Kelley did not have a licence for his gun. He was also discharged on “bad conduct” from the Air Force after being convicted of domestic violence, which should have prohibited him from buying the Ruger AR-556 rifle he used at the church.
The Associated Press reported that Kelley managed to buy weapons because the Air Force failed to log his conviction into a federal database for background checks, as is required by the Pentagon.
Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, also advocated for arming parishioners or at least hiring armed security for churches.
Where laws might fail, he told CBC’s Andrew Nichols on Monday, armed citizens could save lives.
“What would prevent this, and what could potentially mitigate it, is having somebody here like…exactly what happened” in Sutherland Springs, Paxton argued.
“We had two heroes come in and chase the guy off. He might have just finished everybody off. Those two people may have saved up to 20 more lives.”
But Andrew Patrick, a spokesperson for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said the neighbour who fired at Kelley and reportedly wounded him was lucky not to be shot by responding police.
“This guy could have easily been mistaken by the gunman and been killed,” he said.
“Here’s an idea,” he went on. “How about we remove guns from dangerous people before they do stuff like this?”
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Sunday that he felt the Texas massacre was the result of a “mental health” problem, not a gun problem. But gun-control proponents note that mass shootings in the U.S. are a unique trend.
The grassroots group Moms Demand Action, referencing an American Journal of Medicine report, responded in a tweet: “Every country struggles with mental health issues, but the U.S. has a gun murder rate 25X higher than peer nations.”
Second Amendment legal scholar Robert Cottrol, who teaches at George Washinton University, broadly agrees that “good guys with a gun can help.”
But he also said it comes with additional burdens for police — and a central question.
“When law enforcement officers come upon a scene, how do they know who the good guy is?”
Last month, the gun-loving Instagram star Dan Bilzerian, who was caught in the Vegas mêlée, admitted to People magazine that he “definitely ran to safety” when he realized he wouldn’t be able to use his weapon to any great effect against the shooter above.
Valleco said the media downplays coverage of shootings in which armed Good Samaritans intervened. In May in Arlington, for example, a concealed carry holder at a sports bar in Arlington shot and killed a gunman who police said had the potential to kill other patrons. (NBC News was among the outlets that reported the incident.)