Thomas Gabor: Civilians carrying guns rarely thwart shooters
Posted Jan 24, 2017 at 2:00 AM
By Thomas Gabor Special to The Sun- reprinted
Last June, the worst mass shooting (49 dead, 53 wounded) in American history occurred at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. On Jan. 6, a shooter opened fire at Fort Lauderdale’s airport, killing five and injuring six people. Elsewhere, such incidents have been met with outrage and a widespread demand for tougher gun laws and vetting of gun owners. In Florida, these mass killings have increased the resolve of legislators who, as illogical as it sounds, believe that gun violence is most effectively countered by more guns and less regulation. The fact that the airport shooting occurred at a point of entry for millions of tourists did not prompt lawmakers who had filed bills that would expand gun rights to reconsider their proposals.
The most comprehensive of these bills is SB 140, which would allow concealed weapon license holders to carry handguns openly into schools, colleges and universities, airports, government meetings and career centers. Proponents are not swayed by evidence that civilian gun carriers rarely thwart perpetrators during a shooting spree. An FBI study of active shooter incidents found that just one of 160 incidents was stopped by an armed civilian.
Another justification for such bills is the idea that armed civilians will be a deterrent to mass shooters. However, the majority of mass shooters commit suicide or are shot (usually by police) during or immediately following these incidents. The FBI study of active shooters found that 40 percent committed suicide and another 19 percent were shot by police. Deterrence is based on the notion of a rational actor and these individuals are usually on a suicide mission. In fact, Stanford University researchers have found that right-to-carry laws “are associated with substantially higher rates of aggravated assault, rape, robbery, and murder.”
Proponents of SB 140 have asserted incorrectly that most mass shootings occur in gun-free zones. In his book, “Rampage Nation: Securing America from Mass Shootings,” Louis Klarevas found that 93 of 111 mass shootings (84 percent) from 1966 to 2015 occurred where guns were not prohibited. The group Everytown for Gun Safety found that 13 percent of mass shootings occurred in gun-free zones.
Many law enforcement experts state that having multiple civilians with guns in the vicinity of an active-shooter situation creates confusion for police, impedes their response, and can lead to catastrophic, friendly-fire shootings by officers and civilians. Even shootouts between trained officers and suspects in congested places can produce collateral damage as seen at the Empire State Building in 2012, when nine bystanders were wounded during an exchange of gunfire.
Armed civilians cannot effectively engage shooters with the training received in Florida. Permit holders typically take a one-time, three-hour course with no written test on the state’s gun laws and appropriate use of lethal force. Nor are there performance-based tests of marksmanship or the handling of firearms. There is no training on making critical shoot/don’t shoot decisions. Joseph Vince, a leading national expert, recommends training that involves real-life scenarios, shooting in stressful situations and firing range practice. Florida requires none of these elements. Even police officers with comprehensive, ongoing training can make catastrophic errors and miss the target frequently in stressful, combat situations.
The Orlando shooting showed that concealed weapon license holders can also be perpetrators. People without criminal records and even former soldiers have committed massacres in fits of jealousy and rage. A substantial number of crimes have been attributed to permit holders. Therefore, allowing license holders to carry their weapons into places where people may get highly stressed (airports, college campuses), angry (government meetings), or intoxicated (college campuses) carries the risk of escalating the outcomes of disputes or of negative emotional states. These stresses and emotional states are a routine part of life; whereas, most of us will never be caught in an active shooter situation. Therefore, the risks associated with ubiquitous gun carrying far outweigh occasions in which people can potentially defend themselves from a shooter.
There is no public demand to allow weapons to be carried openly onto college campuses, airports, and the other venues specified in SB 140. College and university campuses, including administrators, faculty, students and campus police chiefs, are unified in their opposition to guns on campus. The Florida Airports Council, representing 94 airports, is opposed to guns in airport terminals. The multi-billion dollar hospitality industry cannot be celebrating the open-carry component of SB 140, as gun-carrying patrons will intimidate some customers and staff.
Right-to-carry laws do not reduce crime, civilians carrying guns rarely thwart shooters and they may impede and endanger responding law enforcement personnel. Thus, it would be reckless to allow civilians lacking the most basic training to bring guns into universities, government buildings or airport facilities and to open fire in these crowded spaces, in the unlikely event they are threatened by a shooter.
– Thomas Gabor is a criminologist living in Palm Beach County and author of “Confronting Gun Violence in America.”