I mentioned in a previous post that The Economist appears to lose all rationality when one specific topic is broached. The writer of the magazine’s April 20 newsletter “The World in Brief” gave another illustration in the section “The Day Ahead”: he could not mention the 25th anniversary of the horrible Columbine school massacre without doing the rhetorical equivalent of a child hiding behind the couch to stop watching a horror movie—which is the horror of guns in the hands of peaceful citizens:

Gun-rights supporters often say, nonsensically, that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

It is not the only way, but often the most efficient. This is why cops are armed (more and more apparently even in the UK) and why mass murderers never attack shooting ranges or gun club meetings. It is a simple matter of incentives. Even if you want to die while killing people, you still want to do the killing. The efficiency of guns against violent criminals comes not only from their deterrent effects but also from their usefulness in self-defense when deterrence has not worked perfectly.

“Nonsensically”? We know of many documented cases where an armed ordinary citizen saved his own life and the lives of others. The FBI publishes an annual report on events where “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” Many of these cases fit the federal definition of mass shootings. The latest of those reports covers 2022 and the 50 cases that occurred during that year, with 313 injured or killed victims. (People who count hundreds of mass shootings per year in the United States include many other sorts of gun incidents.) Three or 6% of the 50 cases documented by the FBI were stopped by an armed ordinary citizen. In two of those cases (4% of the total), a mass murderer was fatally shot by an ordinary citizen, compared with seven cases (14%) by law enforcement. The two cases are summarized as follows in the FBI report (p. 11):

In one incident [Charleston, West Virginia], an armed bystander engaged the shooter, killing him, after the shooter fired into a crowd attending a party outside an apartment complex.

In one incident [Greenwood, Indiana], an armed citizen killed the shooter as he began firing in a mall food court.

In this last incident, 22-year-old Elisjsha Dicken had just come to the mall with his girlfriend when a mass shooting started. Three people had already been killed and two wounded. Dicken drew his pistol and exchanged fire with the mass murderer, whom he fatally shot. Greenwood’s police chief declared that “many more people would have died if not for a responsible armed citizen that took action very quickly” (“Elisjsha Dicken Stops a Mass Shooting,” Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2022).

Reported cases of armed self-defense in individual aggressions are more numerous. Note that all school shootings have occurred in places where teachers or staff were banned from having a gun under penalty of felony.

We also know, by following murder cases and their investigations in the press, that in at least some of them, peaceful individuals who were murdered could conceivably have stopped their murderers if they had been armed. We can suspect that in many cases, the victim’s last thought must have been “If only I had a gun.” There are real, identifiable individuals who lose their lives or are severely injured and who were forbidden by their own benevolent governments to carry means of protection.

One intuitive objection claims that, even if armed self-defense works, the greater availability of guns on which it is predicated will lead to more murders or aggressions with firearms. Historical and other empirical evidence exists against this objection, but assume for a moment that the latter is valid. Consider what it amounts to claiming: that it is morally acceptable to forbid a peaceful and innocent person to defend himself or herself against a violent aggressor in order to reduce the probability that some unknown person in the future will be the victim of a criminal armed with a gun. It is analogous to a policy that would jail all young men between the age of 17 and 24 in order to prevent 39% of murders (see my post “A Simplistic Model of Public Policy”; see also “The Purpose of a Gun is Not to Kill.”)


Hiding behind the couch not to see the non-horror movie

Hiding behind the couch not to see the non-horror movie