Its time for gun violence to be a thing of the past:
"In the fierce debate that always follows the latest mass shooting, it's an argument you hear frequently from gun rights promoters: If only more people were armed, there would be a better chance of stopping these terrible events. This has plausibility problems—what are the odds that, say, a moviegoer with a pack of Twizzlers in one pocket and a Glock in the other would be mentally prepared, properly positioned, and skilled enough to take out a body-armored assailant in a smoke- and panic-filled theater? But whether you believe that would happen is ultimately a matter of theory and speculation. Instead, let's look at some facts gathered in a two-month investigation by Mother Jones.
In the wake of the slaughters this summer at a Colorado movie theater and a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, we set out to track mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years. We identified and analyzed 61 of them, and one striking pattern in the data is this: In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun. Moreover, we found that the rate of mass shootings has increased in recent years—at a time when America has been flooded with millions of additional firearms and a barrage of new laws has made it easier than ever to carry them in public. And in recent rampages in which armed civilians attempted to intervene, they not only failed to stop the shooter but also were gravely wounded or killed.
America has long been heavily armed relative to other societies, and our arsenal keeps growing. A precise count isn't possible because most guns in the United States aren't registered and the government has scant ability to track them, thanks to a legislative landscape shaped by powerful pro-gun groups such as the National Rifle Association. But through a combination of national surveys and manufacturing and sales data, we know that the increase in firearms has far outpaced population growth. In 1995 there were an estimated 200 million guns in private hands. Today, there are around 300 million—about a 50 percent jump. The US population, now over 314 million, grew by about 20 percent in that period. At this rate, there will be a gun for every man, woman, and child before the decade ends.
There is no evidence indicating that arming Americans further will help prevent mass shootings or reduce the carnage, says Dr. Stephen Hargarten, a leading expert on emergency medicine and gun violence at the Medical College of Wisconsin. To the contrary, there appears to be a relationship between the proliferation of firearms and a rise in mass shootings: By our count, there have been two per year on average since 1982. Yet 24 of the 61 cases we examined have occurred since 2006. This year alone there have already been six mass shootings—and a record number of casualties, with 110 people injured and killed.
Armed civilians attempting to intervene are actually more likely to increase the bloodshed, says Hargarten, "given that civilian shooters are less likely to hit their targets than police in these circumstances." A chaotic scene in August at the Empire State Building put this starkly into perspective when New York City police officers confronting a gunman wounded nine innocent bystanders.
Surveys suggest America's guns may be concentrated in fewer hands today: Approximately 40 percent of households had them in the past decade, versus about 50 percent in the 1980s. But far more relevant is a recent barrage of laws that have rolled back gun restrictions throughout the country. In the past four years, across 37 states, the NRA and its political allies have pushed through 99 laws making guns easier to own, easier to carry in public, and harder for the government to track.
Among the more striking measures: Eight states now allow firearms in bars. Law-abiding Missourians can carry a gun while intoxicated and even fire it if "acting in self-defense." In Kansas, permit holders can carry concealed weapons inside K-12 schools, and Louisiana allows them in houses of worship. Virginia not only repealed a law requiring handgun vendors to submit sales records, but the state also ordered the destruction of all such previous records. More than two-thirds of these laws were passed by Republican-controlled statehouses, though often with bipartisan support.
The laws have caused dramatic changes, including in the two states hit with the recent carnage. Colorado passed its concealed-carry measure in 2003, issuing 9,522 permits that year; by the end of last year the state had handed out a total of just under 120,000, according to data we obtained from the County Sheriffs of Colorado. In March of this year, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that concealed weapons are legal on the state's college campuses. (It is now the fifth state explicitly allowing them.) If former neuroscience student James Holmes were still attending the University of Colorado today, the movie theater killer—who had no criminal history and obtained his weapons legally—could've gotten a permit to tote his pair of .40 caliber Glocks straight into the student union. Wisconsin's concealed-carry law went into effect just nine months before the Sikh temple shooting in suburban Milwaukee this August. During that time, the state issued a whopping 122,506 permits, according to data from Wisconsin's Department of Justice. The new law authorizes guns on college campuses, as well as in bars, state parks, and some government buildings.
And we're on our way to a situation where the most lax state permitting rules—say, Virginia's, where an online course now qualifies for firearms safety training and has drawn a flood of out-of-state applicants—are in effect national law. Eighty percent of states now recognize handgun permits from at least some other states. And gun rights activists are pushing hard for a federal reciprocity bill—passed in the House late last year, with GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan among its most ardent supporters—that would essentially make any state's permits valid nationwide.
Indeed, the country's vast arsenal of handguns—at least 118 million of them as of 2010—is increasingly mobile, with 69 of the 99 new state laws making them easier to carry. A decade ago, seven states and the District of Columbia still prohibited concealed handguns; today, it's down to just Illinois and DC. (And Illinois recently passed an exception cracking the door open to carrying). In the 61 mass shootings we analyzed, 53 of the killers packed handguns—including in all 14 of the mass shootings since the surge of pro-gun laws began in 2009.
In a certain sense the law was on their side: 80 percent of the killers in our investigation obtained their weapons legally.
We used a conservative set of criteria to build a comprehensive rundown of high-profile attacks in public places—at schools, workplaces, government buildings, shopping malls—though they represent only a small fraction of the nation's overall gun violence. The FBI defines a mass murderer as someone who kills four or more people in a single incident, usually in one location. (As opposed to spree or serial killers, who strike multiple times.) We excluded cases involving armed robberies or gang violence; dropping the number of fatalities by just one, or including those motives, would add many, many more cases. (More about our criteria here.)
There was one case in our data set in which an armed civilian played a role. Back in 1982, a man opened fire at a welding shop in Miami, killing eight and wounding three others before fleeing on a bicycle. A civilian who worked nearby pursued the assailant in a car, shooting and killing him a few blocks away (in addition to ramming him with the car). Florida authorities, led by then-state attorney Janet Reno, concluded that the vigilante had used force justifiably, and speculated that he may have prevented additional killings. But even if we were to count that case as a successful armed intervention by a civilian, it would account for just 1.7 percent of the mass shootings in the last 30 years.
More broadly, attempts by armed civilians to stop shooting rampages are rare—and successful ones even rarer. There were two school shootings in the late 1990s, in Mississippi and Pennsylvania, in which bystanders with guns ultimately subdued the teen perpetrators, but in both cases it was after the shooting had subsided. Other cases led to tragic results. In 2005, as a rampage unfolded inside a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington, a civilian named Brendan McKown confronted the assailant with a licensed handgun he was carrying. The assailant pumped several bullets into McKown and wounded six people before eventually surrendering to police after a hostage standoff. (A comatose McKown eventually recovered after weeks in the hospital.) In Tyler, Texas, that same year, a civilian named Mark Wilson fired his licensed handgun at a man on a rampage at the county courthouse. Wilson—who was a firearms instructor—was shot dead by the body-armored assailant, who wielded an AK-47. (None of these cases were included in our mass shootings data set because fewer than four victims died in each.)
Appeals to heroism on this subject abound. So does misleading information. Gun rights die-hards frequently credit the end of a rampage in 2002 at the Appalachian School of Law in Virginia to armed "students" who intervened—while failing to disclose that those students were also current and former law enforcement officers, and that the killer, according to police investigators, was out of ammo by the time they got to him."
It is no longer acceptable to defend guns as legitimate parts of casual society. There are more responsible gun owners than not, and yet horrific killings continue to happen more and more. Our culture is rich and historically vibrant and will continue to be so with or without private gun ownership. One thing is clear, the longer we have guns in our homes, the longer we will endure this long national tragedy. The longer we continue to perpetrate the myth that guns don't kill people, people do, the longer we will mourn for our fallen loved ones. The longer we ignore the plain truths that weapons designed to kill many in a short amount of time have no place in the American diaspora, the longer we will be consumed with horrible realty after horrible realty. The longer we heed the myth that guns protect us from an overzealous military industrial complex, the longer we will beholden to fear and loathing.
As mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, teachers, police, ems workers, doctors and lawyers, graphic designers, union organizers, hospice workers, bus drivers, farmers, waiters, construction workers and window washers, musicians and actors, engineers, producers and IT professionals, salesmen, and hairdressers, countless service workers from hotels to nursing homes to fast food restaurants to chain clothing stores, to wall street brokers and middle managers pushing paper of every hue, we all sign here to give our support to the end of gun culture.
We support the end of nightmarish anguish every time our children set foot outside the door. We support the end to violence as a natural solution to problems. We support the end to guns. Let the shiny barrels that we have grown to idolize be relegated to the annals of history...
Will you be the president that presides over a new day? We're listening..