Is good news about public violence even a thing?

Some of us are afraid of bad news. Most of us know someone who is afraid of going to the doctor because they don’t want to make hard decisions about their health.

The great news is that most medical conditions can be treated. That emotional reaction is also common when we consider public violence. It is particularly accurate about how we feel about mass-murder. Many of us feel both compelled to watch the news about public violence, while at the same time we want to turn away and pretend it doesn’t happen. Let me bring you good news. We learned how to stop mass-murder in several ways. We’ve done it, so we are talking about actual practice rather than mere theory.

The first thing we have to do is get past the fantasy of Hollywood violence and talk about what really happens.

I’m going to go back to the medical model for a moment. I’ve had friends who oscillated between denial and helplessness. They feel that there can’t be a problem, or that the problem is intractable so why bother. They become hopeless and vulnerable to people who sell quack cures. I won’t do that to you. I’ve studied public violence for a decade, and there is real hope to stop mass-murderers. For a moment, let’s set aside both fantasy and our fears.

Part of us knows that what we see from Hollywood isn’t real. Yes, we might be caught up in the story. At the same time, part of our mind knows that hundreds of people don’t suddenly explode in a flash of flame and get thrown backwards when someone waves a gun around. The truth is that mass-murder is hard, and ordinary citizens stop mass-murderers most of the time. That is fairly obvious if we’re willing to look at it for a minute. Again, I promise it will only be a minute. It turns out that you have lived through the critical experiment many times.

Remember one of the times you walked into a group of your friends and shouted hello. Your friends look at you. One of them points their finger at you and you point back at them and wave. You do that a number of times as more of your friends recognize you.

Then you see a friend off to the side that you missed. You wave and smile to see someone you didn’t notice at first. There is a feeling of an unexpected, pleasant surprise. We didn’t see them at first because we were concentrating on someone else in the group. We thought we saw everyone, but we really didn’t. A friend we didn’t see slaps us on the shoulder and asks how we’ve been. We were looking at the group so we never noticed our friend come up behind us.

Hold that experience in mind for a minute. I could ask you all kinds of questions about your friends and we’d find out that you didn’t really see them at all. How were they sitting? Who was talking to whom? How were they dressed, and what were they doing with their hands when you said hello? We are not a camera, and we imagine that we see more than we really do.

We don’t see everything. As soon as we look at one thing, we become blind to the rest of the world around us.

(The hard part starts now, but it won’t be long.)

That common experience explains why we kill mass murderers time after time. To put it in simple terms, they don’t see us and we shoot them. Maybe they die right there, and maybe they are only wounded. Being shot at makes the attacker feel deeply vulnerable. Usually, they run away. This wasn’t the violence they had imagined and they usually take their own life.

(The gruesome part is over so you can breathe again.)

There are other perceptual and tactical factors at work, but I’m not trying to make better murderers. The fact is that mass-murderers are vulnerable.

Where ordinary citizens were allowed to be armed, we stopped attempted mass-murderers almost two-thirds of the time. That also had a drastic effect on the number of people who were injured or killed. Ordinary citizens like you saved over a thousand lives. Again, the reasons might not be obvious to everyone.

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It is clear that stopping the murderer means that more innocent people aren’t getting shot. It also means we can move the people who were injured to safety and we can quickly start life-saving treatment by stopping the bleeding. EMTs get to the injured victims faster because the scene is safe. There are fewer victims to treat, so each victim gets more attention, and the victims are in better condition when EMTs first reach them.

That is what happens time after time. On average, we’ve done that about every 18 days for the last 8 years. None of that happens while we wait another 15 minutes for the police to arrive.

It turns out that the murderer wasn’t so deadly because he had some Hollywood super weapon. Mass-murderers hunt us in “gun-free” zones. The murderer was deadly because he could kill at will without someone to stop him.

Millions of us go armed every day, but we obeyed the rules and left our guns outside. The mass-murderer didn’t.

I’m sure that some of you can see the answers already:

  • The personal solution is easy. Make sure that someone can shoot back.
  • The public solution is time tested. We’ve done it for the last decade, and we’ve never had a school attacked where they had a public program of armed school staff.
  • The legal solution is simple. Make property owners responsible when they disarm the people who obey the law. If you stop me from protecting my family, then you become responsible for their safety.
  • The media solution is easy as well. Most mass-murderers kill innocent people so the mass-media will show us their face, their name, and their manifesto. Stop giving mass-murderers a multi-million-dollar publicity campaign.
  • All that might sound simple, but the political solution is harder. We have to ignore quack cures that have failed in the past.

I told you there was good news.

Rob Morse writes about gun rights at his SlowFacts blog and hosts the Self Defense Gun Stories Podcast and co-hosts the Polite Society Podcast.

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