Now What?

Friday, February 15, 2008




It has been a while since I commented on anything related to guns.  Yesterday's mass murder at NIU deserves discussion.  I am sure there will be an analysis into a multitude of aspects of the murderer's life, campus security and laws dealing with the mentally ill and firearms.  The fact that he took his own life won't stop pundits and experts from dissecting every detail of the 27 years he was alive.

Like most people, I would like to see some changes so that these kinds of things can be prevented or stopped.  I am not so naive to think we can make them disappear, but I do think we can lessen them.  The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is asking that we sign a petition to demand that "our weak gun laws be strengthened," so that this can be prevented.  I am not sure what kind of laws they think should be passed.  Illinois has some of the strictest gun laws in the United States.  Additionally, NIU, like most campuses, forbids students and staff from carrying any kind of weapons on campus.

One thing that I think could help is allowing lawful carry on campuses and eliminating most other no-carry zones.  To many, this is a very scary concept and conjures up images of dozens of people whipping out their guns and bullets 'flying everywhere'.  While possible, I doubt this is a likely scenario.  While the majority of states allow for lawful carry, the percentage of people that carry on a regular basis is very small.  Most states also only allow carry for people 21 and older, so this would exclude most college students.  I am not willing to speculate as to what would have happened if NIU allowed lawful carry, but I would like to look at two other recent incidents to make somewhat of an educated guess.

This past December, a man who stated that he "wanted to go out in style," killed 8 people before killing himself in a crowded Omaha shopping mall.  One of the witnesses gave an interview to a Nebraska blogger and said:

"Honestly, and as God as my witness, when I saw him shooting and as watched for a few seconds trying to figure out what he was going to do and what I should do, the thought that when through my mind was, “If I had a gun, I have a perfect shot.”

Yes, a perfect shot. I had a full side profile, I was close, and no one was visible behind him execept a wall. I had a clear shot during the second round of fire. I told this to every cop I came in contact with. The interviewer agreed.

When I realized that I had no gun, fear instantly struck me, along with anger, and severe panic.

I ran hard."

Why didn't he have a gun?

"
I do not have a Concealed Handgun Permit. I have completed the training class, but I keep putting off applying for the permit because I think it is useless. In the places I would need a gun most, I am not allowed to have it. I will not be a person living in fear and not go to Van Maur because they don’t allow guns."

In another early December incident, a man who had already killed two people at a missionary training center, walked into a Colorado Springs Church with a rifle, two pistols, and 1000 rounds of ammunition.  He had already shot three people in the parking lot, killing two girls and wounding their father.  While in the foyer of the church he was shot 5 times by a volunteer security guard.  I think it is fair to say that if she hadn't reacted the way she did, then it could have been far worse.  There were around 7000 people that were attending that service.

I can't say if the NIU incident would have ended differently if they had allowed lawful carry and I won't say that is the best solution, but it is a solution.  On a personal level, I certainly don't have some kind of Walter Mitty fantasy of shooting at the 'bad guys.'  I would just the to have the ability to defend myself and my family.

15 comments:

B Mac 2:49 PM  

I agree and disagree. How's that for hedging?

I agree that just banning guns won't eliminate this type of thing. It may cut down on gun-related crimes in general, it won't stop Joe Q. McFuckedUp from shooting up a Wendys or a Wal-Mart.

Likewise, I'm not sure how much carry/conceal permits would help. In some cases, like the ones you mentioned, they would obviously save lives. But there would also be cases of mistaken vigilante shootings and innocent bystanders getting capped. Would the net result be positive or negative? No idea, but I doubt it would make a huge difference on the macro level.

Whenever I see something like this, I don't think of it as a gun issue. I see it as a mental health issue. When a drunk driver crashes into a minivan, no one talks about whether the real issue was one of airbags & seatbelts. When a guy commits suicide by jumping off a tall building, no one debates the impact of the lack of guardrails on the roof.

But when a guy has enough issues to shoot a bunch of people for (seemingly) no reason, why do we alwasy spend time talking about the moment he pulled the trigger, rather than the seconds, minutes, hours, days, or weeks leading up to it?

steves 4:38 PM  

Having worked in the mental health system, I would agree with your assessment of the mental health angle. I could write a lot on that, but decided to keep this on one topic. As more information comes out, I may do another one on the 'system'. I see that he had been on medication, but just stopped taking it. The reality is that no matter how well funded the system is, there will always be people that fall through the cracks, unless you are willing to madate treatment and deprive people of their freedom based on the opinion of a psychologis/social worker/counselor. I had a kid on my caseload that killed someone. I was very surprised because he had never shown that level of anger or violence.

I don't have any stats on accidental shootings by concealed weapons holders, but overall accidental shootings are exceeding low, given the number of guns in circulation. I know that John Lott has done some studies in regards to how concealed carry laws lower crime rates, but there is info that suggests his studoes may be flawed.

I guess the reason that I focus on the event, as opposed to what led up to it, is a kind of 'what if' pondering. If I were in a situation where some lubatic was shooting up an area that I was in, it wouldn't matter to me right then what kinds of services he received, but it would matter if I had the means to defend myself. It wouldn't matter if, statistically speaking, wepons prevented these events, it would matter if I had the means to defend myself. There is no guarantee that I would do anything useful, but the odds go down if I had no means to defend myself. I kind of view carrying a weapon the same as I would wearing a seatbelt or having a fire extinguisher in my home. It is just a tool.

Tony 9:47 AM  

Steve,

I don't know all that much about gun laws but I do see the concealed weapon permit as useless.

It does in some certain cases cultivate some wackos who want to enact vigilante justice any opportunity they get. I am certainly not saying that is the norm but can happen.

I remember clearly when I was working as a teenager at Phar-Mor (before Wal-Mart took over everything) the store was robbed and all of us were held at gunpoint. The robber was so scared and shaking so much that even if he did shoot he probably wouldn't have hit anyone.

After the incident and the man escaped (arrested later that night) an old codger came up to the manager of the store, I was standing right beside him. He pulled a .44 from his pants and shook it at the floor, exclaiming, "If I only had a clear shot!"

That was in '88. I blogged last year on the VT incident, at the time I was only living a couple of hours away, and knew some families affected. The first thing said was if a professor had had a gun, it could have stopped the mayhem, but of course, professors are not allowed to carry.

I think a concealed weapons permit would help but it certainly won't stop this from happening. My big fear would be escalation--in stand-off situations, escalation can and will happen, and more people may get hurt.

I definitely see where you are coming from though. I don't disagree with you, I'm just very leery.

steves 6:18 PM  

Tony, welcome. I htink I posted on the VT shootings on your blog. The reason I said it was a solution, as opposed to saying it was the 'best' solution was because of all the variables involved.

As far as I know, there aren't many good, comprehensive studied on defensive shootings. I know that FSU Criminology professor Gary Kleck has estimated that there are 2.5 million instances where guns are used defensively every year. I should note that the majority do not involve shots being fired. I am not aware of any nationwide data on CPL holders hurting bystanders.

Michigan publishes a CPL report every year that includes any criminal convictions of CPL holders. For the most part, they are a very law abiding group, with a crime rate much lower than the general population.

Again, I am not trying to say that CPL holders are superheroes and that they would stop these situations. There are plenty of stories out there where they have been wounded or killed trying to intervene. I am still not willing to say if the NIU incident would have tunred out differently because I just don't know.

Tony 12:05 AM  

There are too many variables. Plus, when you throw in the unpredictability of the one wielding the gun, it doesn't make for a good situation anytime.

I had a deputy neighbor in VA, retired after thirty years service. He had only fired his pistol once in defense--once. Honest, I would not want to be one of those kinds of superheroes. I admire the guys who CAN do that.

steves 7:01 AM  

I know a retired State cop that never fired his gun in the line of duty, but did draw it once. If I had to guess, I'd say that most police (and far more CPL holders) will never have to shoot someone. I hope that I am in this category, but there is a saying that goes, it is better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it.

Defensive shooting get little press. If they get anything, it is almost always local. OTOH, criminal shootings tend to get more national press. The creates the perception that the latter happens more than the prior, when the opposite is true.

Bob "Chief Beer Advocate" 12:19 PM  

"...walked into a Colorado Springs Church with a rifle, two pistols, and 1000 rounds of ammunition. He had already shot three people in the parking lot, killing two girls and wounding their father. While in the foyer of the church he was shot 5 times by a volunteer security guard."

Wasn't it later shown that either the security guard never shot the guy, or hit the guy, but not fatally? In the end I think he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

I have a stupid question. If a CCW enables you to conceal a weapon, can you carry a pistol unconcealed without a CCW?

Seems to me wearing a 45 on your hip would be the best way to prevent crime.

Smitty 3:17 PM  

Plus, when you throw in the unpredictability of the one wielding the gun, it doesn't make for a good situation anytime

That's why I am not generally supportive of CCWs. It's not just the guy waving his around or taking shots. It's the other guy trying to take the shooter out and missing or escalating a situation into a double homicide because he or she is not trained to handle escalation like a cop. Also, if it's the cop who screws it up, he's accountable. I'm afraid that a citizen who screws it up was "just trying his best."

The creates the perception that the latter happens more than the prior, when the opposite is true

So if defensive shootings happen more than criminal acts, I kinda see that as an indictment against CCW. In the majority of shootings that are defensive, how many were argumnts escalating and someone making a judgment call that he "had to shoot him?" How many were situations were the criminal didn't need to die but could have been apprehended and arrested?

I know these are rhetorical questions and there's probably no data given that you have the opinion of the shooter versus that of the shoot-ee (who could be dead)...but it makes my point.

steves 9:13 PM  

"Wasn't it later shown that either the security guard never shot the guy, or hit the guy, but not fatally? In the end I think he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound."

IIRC, she hit him 5 times in the torso and wounded him. He then shot himself. Either way, she played a major role in stopping him from shooting more people.

"Also, if it's the cop who screws it up, he's accountable. I'm afraid that a citizen who screws it up was "just trying his best."

Actually, the opposite is true. While police have internal investigation and department policy, they, as state actors, have a great deal of immunity from liability. While not unlimited, they are certainly in a better position than non-police.

"So if defensive shootings happen more than criminal acts, I kinda see that as an indictment against CCW. In the majority of shootings that are defensive, how many were argumnts escalating and someone making a judgment call that he "had to shoot him?" How many were situations were the criminal didn't need to die but could have been apprehended and arrested?"

I can't speak for every situation in the study, but the defensive shootings that were counted were ones where the shooter was found to be acting in self-defense. I checked my Bar-Bri outline and most of the country follows the same rule as Michigan. If you are involved in a mutual affray (aka a fight) and it escalates, it is very hard to later claim self-defense if you use lethal force. Legal self-defense in most states is a tool of last resort and may only be used if your are in imminent risk of death or great bodily harm. These aren't situations where an arrest is warranted, IMO.

Smitty 2:48 PM  

imminent risk of death or great bodily harm. These aren't situations where an arrest is warranted, IMO

If someone is doing something to you or others and a cop is near, I am pretty sure, though I am not a lawyer, that they are probably doing something arrestable.

They key there is "and a cop is near."

Really, the arguments you are making are chipping away at my opposition for CCW-style laws. The only thing that stands in the way at this point is that John Q. Citizen who has a gun may not make the most judicious decisions before they use it. I see you have indicated that there is some evidence that shows they do make some judicious decisions. I just can't get over my fear of increased vigilanteism. I don't fear a lawless "wild west" scenario. I do fear inadequate decisions about when to use lethal force.

When I was 19, I had to make decisions about when (or not) to light up a mob. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn't. I had to evaluate the situation very rapidly. But I think being deployed in combat is vastly different. Everyone in Somalia carried a gun, right out in the open. Goin' to the market, takin' my AK. But again, my experience, as a really young buck, was vastly different.

My worry is that some people who carry won't exhibit the same restraint I did, and I was 19. I just can't seem to get past this point and fully change my mind about these laws.

steves 6:20 PM  

"If someone is doing something to you or others and a cop is near, I am pretty sure, though I am not a lawyer, that they are probably doing something arrestable."

What I was trying to say is that a situation where lethal force is justified is pretty far gone and even the police would be using lethal force as opposed to makin an arrest.

As for citizens making judicious decisions, I can only speak for myself and the people that go through my class. My restraint comes from the fact that:

1. I don't want be in a situation where I would have to take another life.

2. I better be damn sure that my (or someone elses) life is in danger. Otherwise, I will face serious prison time, plus civil liability. I knew a guy from Missouri that was involved in a defensive shooting. He was cleared, but the civil lawsuit ended up costing him well over $20,000 in legal fees.

Most instructors (myself included) spend a great deal of time discussing the legal aspects of self-defense. I think most people that carry understand there are serious consequences for any kind of shooting.

Again, I can't speak for all CPL holders or instructors, but the people that took my class tended to be mature, intelligent, and had a good attitude. As Joel can probably tell you, the marksmanship qualifications were not all that stringent. IMO, one of the most important aspects of the class is whether the student understood when it was appropriate to use lethal force. There is no way I would pass someone if they came to the class with an attitude that said they couldn't wait to shoot someone.

Smitty 7:19 PM  

There is no way I would pass someone if they came to the class with an attitude that said they couldn't wait to shoot someone

Problem is, a sociopath would know to say and do the right things...it's a means to an end.

I am sure most people in the classes are mature and well-intentioned. I am sure they have good attitudes and a heavy dose of not wanting to be in a place where that may happen to them, ever. I get that and it's fine. I am vaguely worried about the marksmanship angle...I know how nervous I was when firing at targets when the shit was hitting the fan...and I was trained to not freak out and keep a level head. I'd hate for people to get caught in "friendly fire" as they tried t take well-aimed shots at a psychopath firing a shotgun into a crowd. How many shots does the average cop squeeze off before he finally hits the target? Thought I saw somewhere it was like 6 or 8. Add a crowd trying to flee the same exit to that mix.

On the other hand, dspite someone's unsteady hand...the chance at stoppping someone before 3 dead becomes 20...kinda priceless.

steves 8:36 PM  

The process is by no means perfect and I am sure there are instructors that would pass anyone. That being said, someone that was truly dangerous and sociopathic probably wouldn't bother with getting a permit, they would just carry illegally.

As for marksmanship, I probably don't practice as much as I should (ammo is expensive), but I still get out a fair amount. I have some friends that easily go through 4000 rounds a month and train so much that they are invited to train police agencies. This is by no means the norm.

All in all, if you comb the news services, I think you will have a difficult time finding incidents where CPL holders kill or wound bystanders. I am far more worried about nutcases and they certainly won't pay attention to any 'gun-free' zones or laws.

Smitty 9:07 PM  

I am far more worried about nutcases and they certainly won't pay attention to any 'gun-free' zones or laws

Me too. In fact, this brings up a whole new string in my mind about many of our laws. I don't entirely agree that laws have a deterrent effect. They do for those of us who are rational. But...there seems to be a lot of people who disobey them and are thus not too concerned with deterrent effects.

steves 2:29 PM  

Not that I expected otherwise, but I just wanted to say thanks for an intelligent and reasoned discussion on this topic. With the exception of gun-realted blogs and boards, this is often an emotionally charged issue.

"I have a stupid question. If a CCW enables you to conceal a weapon, can you carry a pistol unconcealed without a CCW?

Seems to me wearing a 45 on your hip would be the best way to prevent crime."

Most states have no laws that prohibit non-concealed (aka open carry) carry. Therefore, it would be legal to carry a '.45 on your hip'. Michigan falls under this category. There are some rural areas in the western US where this happens, but not so much around here. It would likely attract a fair amount of negative attention from the police and the public.

As for a deterrent effect, I don't know. There is one school of thought that says criminals will avoid locations where they know people are carrying and choose 'softer' targets. Another says that it isn't a good idea and that it attracts too much attention. I am not aware of any studies on the subjecy, so I really don't know.

"Me too. In fact, this brings up a whole new string in my mind about many of our laws. I don't entirely agree that laws have a deterrent effect."

I agree. Look at drug laws and Prohibition.

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