Auditing Shooting Rampage StatisticsDecember 15th, 2012
Firearm prohibitionists love to use tragedy to leverage their agenda. So, it’s important for gun rights advocates to stand their ground and fire back (proverbially) whenever this happens.
This analysis was originally published after the Dark Knight premier shooting in Aurora, Colorado and was based on an older analysis I did of just 10 shootings. My conclusions are always met with great enthusiasm and much skepticism, which is why I continually audit the statistics and refine the data. I am especially grateful to all the knowledgeable commenters who have helped correct my errors. So, in light of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut that has left 27 dead, including 20 children, I am updating this analysis. The analysis now includes 100 shootings with 32 cases of gunmen firing indiscriminately whose rampage was cut short through the intervention of either a civilian or a police officer. But here’s a spoiler… It’s not that different.
The average number of people killed in mass shootings when stopped by police is 14.3
The average number of people killed in a mass shooting when stopped by a civilian is 2.3
It makes perfect sense if you think about it from inside the mind of a heroic civilian with a concealed carry permit. It goes something like this:
“Holy crap! that guy shot that other guy.”
“He’s just going to keep shooting people.”
And the shooter goes down.
Quite a few cases went something like that. In fact, I found only one example of a shooter stopped by civilians who killed more than 3 people. Jared Loughner killed 6 people in Tucson, Arizona before he was tackled by two civilians. A reader informed me that at least one of the civilians that helped stop Jared Loughner was carrying a concealed weapon, but he did not use his gun out of concern for innocent bystanders.
I want to be perfectly clear. I am not much of a firearms enthusiast. I don’t own a firearm. I’ve only ever been shooting twice. For me it’s not an issue of gun rights. It’s about property rights. A person has a natural right to own a hunk of iron in any damn shape they want, and they shouldn’t be criminalized until they use that hunk of iron to harm someone. People can argue crime statistics ’till they’re blue in face. I frankly don’t care about people’s ideas for managing society.
What I am is a math enthusiast. A common response to this statistic is that amateur statisticians denounce my methodology, followed by professional statisticians who say my methodology is sound. I was also contacted by a college professor who I supplied him with all my research notes, so they it can be peer-reviewed and perhaps published in a more academic setting. I was a AP Calculus student in high school, and I did well in statistics. But in college I focused on art and writing. So, if you want raw numbers and my methodology you can see it here.
The first point I want to draw your attention to is that roughly half of shooting rampages end in suicide anyway. What that means is that police are not even in a position to stop most of them. Only the civilians present at the time of the shooting have any opportunity to stop those shooters. That’s probably more important than the statistic itself. In a shooting rampage, counting on the police to intervene at all is a coin flip at best.
Second, within the civilian category 11 of the 17 shootings were stopped by unarmed civilians. What’s amazing about that is that whether armed or not, when a civilian plays hero it seems to save a lot of lives. The courthouse shooting in Tyler, Texas was the only incident where the heroic civilian was killed. In that incident the hero was armed with a handgun and the villain was armed with a rifle and body armor. If you compare the average of people killed in shootings stopped by armed civilians and unarmed civilians you get 1.8 and 2.6 but that’s not nearly as significant as the difference between a proactive civilian, and a cowering civilian who waits for police.
So, given that far less people die in rampage shootings stopped by a proactive civilian, only civilians have any opportunity to stop rampage shootings in roughly half of incidents, and armed civilians do better on average than unarmed civilians, wouldn’t you want those heroic individuals who risk their lives to save others to have every tool available at their disposal?
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