Auditing Shooting Rampage Statistics

July 31st, 2012

Last week I posted a graphic on the claiming the average number of people killed in mass shootings when stopped by police is 18.25, and the average number of people killed in mass shootings when stopped by civilians is 2.2. I based it on the 10 shootings I covered in last week’s Pop Friday post and I did the math myself.

The graphic was met with great enthusiasm and much skepticism. Leave it to Facebook users to demand an audit on a meme. So, I started over, only much more meticulous this time. I compiled and analyzed 93 shootings, and I am now prepared to present my findings, complete with a link to all the data. But here’s a spoiler… It’s not that different.

I was so close! Here’s what I think accounts for the difference. In the first sample there was likely a selection error based on what grabs headlines. Larger shootings get more press, so if you take a small sample you’re going to be working with a data set of the worst shootings. As for the consistency of the civilian statistic, it makes perfect sense if you think about 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. Maybe it’d have been less if one of those two men were armed.

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, 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, so they aren’t even part of this statistic. 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 two thirds 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. I found only one case where the heroic civilian was killed in the process, although many were wounded. In 2005, when David Hernandez Arroyo Sr. opened fire with an assault rifle from the steps of a courthouse in Tyler, Texas Mark Wilson fired back. Mark succeeded in drawing Arroyo’s fire, and ultimately drove him off, but was fatally wounded.

If you compare the average deaths in a shooting rampage stopped by armed civilians to unarmed civilians you get 1.8 and 2.6, but that’s not nearly as significant as the difference between a proactive heroic civilian, and a cowering civilian who waits for police.

So, given that far less people die in rampage shootings stopped by proactive civilians, 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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About the Author: Davi Barker

In grade school Davi refused to recite the pledge of allegiance because he didn't understand what it meant. He was ordered to do as he was told. In college he spent hours scouring through the congressional record trying to understand this strange machine. That's where he discovered Dr. Ron Paul. In 2007 he joined the End The Fed movement and found a political home with the libertarians. The Declaration of Independence claims that the government derives its power “from the consent of the governed." He does not consent.