Friday, July 27, 2012

Public killings and armed citizenry

By Donald Sensing

Why the theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., would not have been stopped or curtailed if firearms permit holders had been allowed by Cinemark Cinemas to carry their guns inside the theater

The presumption that the theater would have been full of armed citizens ready to shoot back at accused murderer Jim Holmes has been a trope of much of the gun-rights commentary. Even so usually an even-handed researcher as John Lott wrote,

... despite more than 4% of the adult population of Colorado having concealed handgun permits, a gunman intent on killing a lot of people could be confident that law-abiding citizens there would be sitting ducks.
Yes, and they would still have been sitting ducks even if Cinemark was owned lock, stock and barrel by the NRA.

Lott then proceeds directly to a non-sequitur:
If one of the hundreds of people at the theater had a concealed handgun, possibly the attack would have ended like the shooting at the mega New Life Church in Colorado Springs in December 2007.

In that assault, the church’s minister had given Jeanne Assam permission to carry her concealed handgun. The gunman killed two people in the parking lot — but when he entered the church, Assam fired 10 shots, severely wounding him. At that point, the gunman committed suicide.
There is a real distinction between Colorado Springs and Aurora. In the former, the killer began shooting outside and the killer then entered an alerted building, where he was immediately ambushed by Ms. Assam. That is not even close to what happened in Aurora, and Lott should know that.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Bombay, India, in 2008, there was a flurry of posts around the right side of the blogosphere that the attacks there justified the continuation or expansion of carry permits for Americans. It was a fairly typical stance that had the people in the Taj Mahal hotel and other places been armed, then attackers would not have been able to kill as many victims or wreak such havoc.

But such claims are no more justifiable, and no more logically based, than the Left's calls that gun ownership must be much more stringently regulated to prevent such massacres.

Lott says that the permit rate in Colorado is four percent, so let’s do some math.

Capacity of the theater: I don’t know for certain, but multiplexes’ large screening rooms can hold 500 easily. So let’s use that.

Number of carry-permit-eligible adults in the theater: your guess is as good as mine, but we know that one of the killed was a six-year-old girl. She cannot have been the only under-21 attendee. In fact, I would say that there were a lot of attendees aged 16-20. But only ages 21 and up can get a permit. So of the (presumed) 500 movie watchers, I would be surprised if more than 400 were permit eligible, and I actually think it’s a high figure.

So: number of attendees who actually had a carry permit: 400 X .04 = 16.

The majority of permit holders who actually, routinely carry is a minority. In fact, the longer someone has had a permit, the less likely s/he is to carry a firearm. So the number of permit holders who would likely actually have brought a pistol into the theater: eight is a very generous number. 

Now eight might seem enough to bring down the accused shooter, but not so fast. We know that the shooter set off smoke initiators prior to opening fire. He was probably obscured from view to most of the audience. So target acquisition by the eight would have been difficult, and remember that the theater is darkened anyway.

I doubt that just legally carrying a gun automatically makes one a Wyatt Earp (there are exceptions). The first inclination is to flee and if an armed attendee can do that, he will. And should. There is nothing in law or custom that obligates armed, private citizen to engage an armed criminal. In fact, there is no legal obligation for a police officer to do so! Getting a permit and buying a pistol is easy – becoming a fighter in lethal danger is hard. It takes the Army months just to get it done to a very basic level. Unless one has an pre-existing determination to fight even though escape is possible, finding fighters, rather than mere gun carriers, among the armed minority will be rare.

So – eight armed good guys of whom certainly three will head for the doors. Five (maybe) left to engage the shooter, whom they can barely see and who is barraging the them with rifle, shotgun and pistol fire. And what will they engage him with? A relatively un-powerful carry pistol of short range and limited ammo capacity, inaccurate more than a few yards away except in the hand of a skilled shooter. Even a larger gun, say a compact (since very few people try to pack a fullsize pistol), places a good guy at a severe disadvantage, firepower-wise. Unless he has a .357 magnum or a pistol of a caliber starting with “4,” the odds are great that one hit on the shooter will not bring him down – and getting even that one hit is very problematic; in fact, I think it's unlikely. (Powerful pistols are expensive and most permit holders won’t pay the cost.)

Even if these (presumed) five good guys had bravely stood their ground and continued to fire back, the odds are remote that any of them would have scored an incapacitating hit in time to have reduced the carnage. Most likely the good guys would have been crouching behind seats, poking their weapons above them and firing once or twice at a time without actually aiming. That means that the permit holders would have probably killed or wounded more than a few innocents themselves because they would have blazed away without regard for where their misses went. The conundrum is that if they took the time to aim and clear the line of fire, so much more time for the shooter to keep firing with great effect.

There are occasions where an armed private citizen can stop potential lethal violence – see the link above. But Aurora was not one of them. If Second Amendment advocates think the massacre doesn’t support greater gun control laws, then they need also to consider that it doesn’t support relaxing carry laws, either.

End note: Lott says in the same op-ed,
Nor have I found a single example on record of a multiple-victim public shooting in which a permit holder accidentally shot a bystander.
This happened only this month, so Lott probably didn't see it yet:

A Wilmington resident told me that the 16-year-old soccer player was killed by spectators who drew iron and started blazing away.

Other links:

Witnesses: Organizer was target in soccer tournament shooting |

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