Last week’s school shooting in Texas marks a new milestone in American history. It’s the first time we have ever experienced four gun massacres resulting in double-digit fatalities within a 12-month period.
In October 2017, 58 were killed at a concert in Las Vegas. A month later, 26 were killed at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Earlier this year, 17 people lost their lives at a high school in Parkland, Fl. And to this list we can now add the 10 people who lost their lives at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas.
This trend speaks to a disturbing, yet undeniable, reality: America has a growing mass shooting problem.
Until our political leaders begin tackling the one thing that all of these attacks have in common — guns — the threat will continue to worsen.
Unfortunately, the reactions in the immediate aftermath of the Santa Fe massacre don’t offer much hope. Rather than address the danger posed by firearms in the hands of dangerous individuals, defenders of gun rights have instead deflected our attention to largely irrelevant factors.
Take Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. In a series of press interviews following the shooting, he rattled off a hodgepodge of causes that included removing religion from school curricula, the breakdown of the American family, the increase in abortions, the prevalence of violent video games and the supposed existence of too many entrances to buildings.
He then fell back to what has become the National Rifle Association’s mantra for reducing the carnage of mass shootings: The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. As he put it, “If another person has a gun, the best way to stop that person is with another person with a gun.”
What Patrick overlooks is that there were two armed school resource officers already at Santa Fe High School the morning of the rampage. In fact, according to police radio transmissions, the officers confronted the shooter within minutes.
Things, however, did not go as planned.
Instead of taking out the gunman, he shot and seriously wounded one of the SROs. When backup arrived and removed the injured officer to safety, rather than resume the active shooter protocol and charge the gunman, the officers instead took defensive positions. As a result, a 25-minute firefight ensued.
Eventually, the shooter surrendered, but not before 10 people had been killed and another 13 wounded.
There’s an important lesson here: The presence of good guys with guns did not deter the attack, nor did it bring it to an abrupt end after it had commenced.
In fact, in a troubling new development, we are now learning that the authorities cannot rule out that rounds fired by law enforcement might have killed some of the innocent victims who were caught in the crossfire.
And it’s not just Santa Fe. There was an armed SRO at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. He neither prevented nor stopped the rampage. Similarly, in at least two other school shootings since Parkland — in Great Mills, Md., and Dixon, Ill. — the presence of armed SROs did not deter attacks.
The failure of good guys with guns to prevent mass shootings should actually come as no surprise. Our history is replete with gun rampages that have targeted places where armed individuals were present: Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, Kirkwood City Hall, Fort Hood and the Washington Navy Yard, to name just a few.
I don’t want to leave the impression that armed officers cannot be of value in saving lives. They most certainly can. In its study of 250 active shooter scenarios between 2000-2017, the FBI identified 75 incidents (30%) where law enforcement engaged rampage gunmen and helped bring the attacks to a resolution.
Yet even here, it came at cost, with police officers incurring casualties in 39 of these interventions (over half), resulting in a total of 84 casualties: 26 killed and 58 wounded.
Even private citizens, on rare occasions, help save lives, although successful outcomes were far fewer for interventions by armed civilians. Over the course of the 18-year period it examined, the FBI identified only three active shootings (1%) that were prematurely terminated by a private citizen employing a personal firearm.
Moreover, while there were three instances where an armed civilian was able to have a positive impact, there were also four separate instances where the armed defender failed, with the citizen being shot in three of those cases.
When put into proper context, it becomes abundantly clear that good guys with guns are not a panacea.
If we are looking for certainties when it comes to mass shootings, there’s only one: A bad guy without a gun is always better than a bad guy with a gun.