Once again, mass murder has occurred in the United States. This time, it took place at a small community college in Oregon. Before the bodies of the victims had even been removed from the building, the predictable political talking points on both sides were already flying. From the left, represented by the President’s speech, you have the typical illogical calls for more gun control. From the right, led by conservative pundits, you have the typical cliché’s about gun free zones and “good guys with guns”. Instead of getting lost in the political drama that always unfolds after one of these tragedies; the better approach would be to try and learn something from what transpired. By doing this, we can better prepare ourselves for the unlikely chance that we may find ourselves in the same situation. In this article, I will attempt to dissect some of the talking points and discover what the real lessons are.
The types of people who commit mass murder are by their very nature risk averse; they are cowards. This is the reason that so called “gun free zones” can be such inviting targets for these attacks. However, in talking about this fact, you have to be careful in the way that you expound on it. It isn’t necessarily the case that removing gun restrictions would significantly increase the chances that a spree murderer will be met by a “good guy with a gun”. After all, murders occur in places where guns are not restricted every day because there simply aren’t that many people (even licensed) who carry guns regularly in the public space, even when allowed to do so. What makes a “gun free zone” so inviting is all about the psychological perception of risk on the part of the violent actor, whether it actually exists or not. If criminal actors were rational, they would realize that the probability of encountering an armed citizen outside of a “gun free zone” is not significantly higher than it would be inside of one, statistically speaking. The reason that doing away with gun restrictions curbs violent crime to a degree is the same reason that most people won’t go skydiving; but will still drive their cars on the dangerous highways. People tend to perceive that the risk associated with skydiving is higher than driving even though, statistically speaking; it is the other way around. Doing away with gun restrictions has the same effect on the way most violent actors make decisions. If a would-be spree-murderer perceives that they might face armed resistance, irrational though it may be; their risk aversion will usually cause them to choose a different target. So, while I certainly agree with the conservative pundits who decry gun-free zones, it’s not because I believe that ending the restrictions would necessarily mean that spree murderers will likely be confronted by an armed citizen, though that certainly could happen. What we do know from research by John Lott is that allowing concealed carry lowers the chances that the violence will occur at all, mostly for the psychological reasons listed above.
The initial reports coming out of Oregon detailed the horrific way that the murderer systematically executed his victims, apparently having them all lie on the floor and then, one by one, stand up and announce their religion before being murdered. At the outset, it seemed as if everyone in the room had allowed this to happen as they waited for the police to hopefully rescue them; something that never happens quickly, if at all. Then this morning we learned about a guy named Chris Mintz, an Army Veteran who was shot multiple times as he charged at the shooter. Though he was unsuccessful in his attempt to end the violent attack, we can learn much from his willingness to fight and his audacity to do so. Imagine if a spree murderer, having chosen to attack what he believes to be defenseless victims, were met by a room full of people with the resolve and intestinal fortitude of Chris Mintz. Imagine if only 3 or 4 individuals in the room yesterday would have had the same resolve. Yes, the would-be heroes would be at a disadvantage, but there is really nothing magical about the attacker having a firearm. Given the right opportunity, and depending on the totality of the circumstances; even a small group of determined unarmed defenders can very easily best an armed attacker. Just look at the incident that occurred on the train in France last month where 3 unarmed guys overtook a terrorist with a rifle. The will to fight and violence of action cannot be overlooked as a powerful force, regardless of what tools one may or may not possess on either side of the fight. Think back to the couple of guys who tried to hijack planes not long after 9/11. Practically the whole cabin subdued them and beat them to a pulp. I don’t foresee that hijacking a commercial airliner will be the first choice of many terrorists going forward.
It is possible to have the same psychological effect on bad guys that loosening gun restrictions does if more people were simply willing to fight for their lives. If violent actors in our culture were made to expect resistance regardless of where they choose to attack, these spree-murders would become more of an anomaly then they already are. The lesson we should learn from this tragedy and many others like it is that we must teach people to actively resist the evil in this world instead of willfully succumbing to it. No mass murderer should be able to expect to line his victims up and systematically execute them, because no individual American should be willing to allow it to go down that way. Unfortunately, the default for most humans is compliance with evil. Most people will go out of their way to try and appease the bad man, hoping that someone is going to rescue them. Until that victim mentality is less pervasive than it is today, we can expect more fame-seeking psychopaths to find opportunities to act out their violent plans with impunity. We have to work to instill the mentality that you are never out of the fight, no matter what tools are involved. Regardless of how long it takes for the political process to unfold in the gun rights arena, we all have the right and the ability to fight back, if we can only find the resolve to do so. We should never allow ourselves to be victimized when we have the ability to resist, and we should never assume that the tools of violence are the only variable in the equation.
Gun free zones are an abomination and should be done away with; there is no doubt about that. Furthermore, no piece of legislation or speech from a President will ever nullify the wickedness of mankind. What we really need are more Americans like Chris Mintz, with a fighting spirit and resolve, which refuse to be victimized. We should be focused on making more “victim free zones”, and then we can worry about the tools we use to fight back. Would be violent-actors won’t be as likely to attack if they perceive the risk of facing resistance. Let’s work on giving them the perception that, armed or not, none of us will go down without a fight. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this tragedy. We learn from their suffering with the hope that we can prevent more suffering in the future. Evil will always exist, and the best we can do is to accept that fact and be prepared to confront it.