You’re hearing a deafening chorus demanding new gun regulations to “do something” about mass shootings. President Joe Biden said it in his nationally televised speech last week: “Do something. Just do something. For God’s sake, do something.”
But here’s one problem: the desperate desire to “do something” blinds gun-control advocates to the fact that their so-called solutions won’t do anything. And here’s an even bigger problem: too many conservatives and Republicans accept the flawed premises of the gun-control movement.
That’s why it’s so crucial to correct the record.
The point here is not to diminish the tragedy of the Uvalde school massacre or any other mass shooting. These events make all decent people sick with horror, shock, and grief. Rather, the point is to focus on what steps will actually reduce mass shootings.
By now we’re all familiar with the reflexive response of the political left and their allies in the mass media: they want to restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens to possess and use firearms. But why are knowledgeable conservatives accepting and even promoting gun-control measures?
Take columnist Cal Thomas, a respected conservative figure. Shortly after the Uvalde shooting, Thomas wrote that “examining prospective purchasers more closely might help, along with waiting periods and more rigorous background checks.”
Say what? The Uvalde shooter passed a background check to obtain his rifle. Why would anyone suppose that a “more rigorous” background check would turn up anything? Most young, twisted school shooters are not career criminals and don’t have significant records of any kind. Two political scientists from the University of Missouri analyzed the data on every mass shooting in the U.S. between 1980 and 2020. They concluded that background-check requirements did nothing to reduce the number of deaths in mass shootings. Time magazine ran its own study in 2019 and concluded that “it was difficult to point to cases where more expansive background checks would have saved lives.”
And why would a leftist nostrum like a waiting period help? The New York Post reported that the Uvalde shooter had been planning his rampage for eight months. Would he have abandoned his murderous scheme if a few more days had elapsed?
Fox News trotted out journalist Judith Miller, who argued that “there is no place on American streets” for “military assault weapons.” Miller said she spoke “as someone who has been embedded with the U.S. military many times.” But given all this experience, she should know that the firearms in question, AR-15-style rifles, are not “military assault weapons.” They are ordinary civilian firearms that have been on the market for nearly sixty years. Tens of millions of citizens own and use AR-15s and other semiautomatic weapons for lawful purposes, including self-defense, hunting, and target shooting. True “military assault weapons” are fully automatic firearms—that is, machine guns. If you don’t understand the difference between an automatic and semiautomatic firearm, you have no right to speak on this issue.
But now some Republican politicians are adopting the anti-gun position on these civilian firearms. For example, GOP congressmen Chris Jacobs and Adam Kinzinger have said they’re open to a ban on “assault weapons.” Neither is running for reelection, FYI. Arkansas’ Republican governor Asa Hutchinson said, “I think you’ve got to be able to talk about the AR-15 style weapons.” Both Hutchinson and Jacobs acknowledged they were open to raising the required age to purchase certain firearms from eighteen to twenty-one. This even though eighteen-year-olds in this country have the right to vote (26th Amendment) and can be drafted and some will make the ultimate sacrifice to defend the rest of our freedoms.
In any case, the University of Missouri political scientists also concluded that “assault weapons” bans did nothing to reduce deaths from mass shootings—and neither did red-flag laws or bans on so-called “large-capacity” magazines. In other words, pretty much every gun-control law on President Joe Biden’s wish list will not make a difference. Yet Republican Sen. John Cornyn (TX), at the behest of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is currently negotiating with Senate Democrats to put together a “bipartisan” gun control package that will reportedly include red flag provisions and expanded background checks.
Conservatives who embrace gun-control measures think they are doing something good to prevent mass shootings. But they are totally wrong on this issue. Some “law and order” conservatives equate firearms with crime—even though about 92 percent of violent crimes do not involve guns. Many conservative thinkers and politicians live or work in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., where restrictive gun laws make gun ownership extremely rare among law-abiding citizens. If you aren’t familiar with firearms, it is easier to accept the gun-control spin that dominates the public discourse on firearms.
But conservatives need to understand that the proposed gun-control laws will not have a meaningful impact on mass shootings. Look at the April shooting in Sacramento, California, or the May shooting in Buffalo, New York. Those two states have some of the country’s most-severe gun-control laws, but the laws did nothing to stop the killers. In fact, they seem to have encouraged the shooters. The Buffalo shooter said in his hate-filled manifesto that “areas with strict gun laws” are “great places of attack,” especially anywhere that bans American citizens from carrying concealed weapons.
Conservatives also need to understand how the anti-gun lobby exploits any concession they make. Every single concession or anti-gun comment any Republican or conservative makes will be used against gun owners by the gun control lobby. As a constitutional attorney who has written several books about the Second Amendment, I frequently debate gun-control advocates. Almost invariably, my opponent will say, “Even [name the conservative] agrees that…” This is especially not helpful since we are then forced to argue against ourselves.
Moreover, conservatives must not swallow the anti-gun crowd’s sneering contention that those who defend our fundamental Second Amendment rights have nothing to offer in response to mass shootings but “thoughts and prayers.” No, we have practical solutions, too. Better solutions, in fact. They just don’t align with the gun control agenda.
Do you know what the blue-ribbon panel that investigated the 2018 Parkland high school massacre recommended to address school shootings? Arming teachers. Yes, the investigators concluded that the best way to defend school children against murderers is to allow teachers and staff to carry concealed guns in school if they receive proper training. The commission did not reach this conclusion lightly. The panel spent ten months preparing its report. Investigators interviewed hundreds of witnesses and reviewed mountains of evidence. The final report ran 439 pages. It wasn’t as widely reported on as the Mueller Report.
Gun-control activists insist that arming teachers won’t work. But twenty states (or portions thereof) allow teachers and staff to carry concealed weapons in school. The Crime Prevention Research Center reports, “Since the year 2000, there has yet to be a single case of someone being wounded or killed from a shooting, let alone a mass public shooting, between 6:00 AM and midnight at a school that lets teachers carry guns.” Not one.
Gun-control proponents want us to delegate our Second Amendment rights to the police and other trained professionals. But this is a dangerous message to send. In Uvalde, police delayed going into the school for at least forty minutes, allowing the shooter to murder at will. The police have drawn criticism for that slow response, and perhaps rightly so. But the fact remains that once the shooting starts at a school, any police response will be too late. For example, in the 2018 school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, police engaged the killer within four minutes of his opening fire—but by then the shooter had killed or wounded all twenty-three of his victims. Similarly, police took less than three minutes to arrive on the scene during the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting. It was still too late. The shooter killed twenty students and six teachers before taking his own life as the police approached.
The only thing that will prevent or cut short a mass shooting is for the shooter to be killed or neutralized immediately. That can happen only if someone already on the scene is armed and preferably trained. In schools, that may be a school resource officer, a trained teacher, or a volunteer parent. In other settings, that may be trained security (paid or volunteer) or simply an ordinary citizen who carries a firearm legally.
Armed citizens save lives, many more than you might think. We hear about mass shootings, but not about the dozens of instances in which armed citizens either prevented the shooter from beginning his rampage or saved many lives by cutting it short.
An instructive example occurred only a day after the Uvalde tragedy. In Charleston, West Virginia, dozens of people were attending an outdoor birthday/graduation party when a man drove up and began shooting into the crowd. A courageous woman in attendance drew a pistol and shot and killed the shooter. Police spokesman Tony Hazelett said, “Instead of running from the threat, she engaged with the threat and saved several lives.”
This heroic action received a tiny fraction of the coverage of the Uvalde shooting. Why? Precisely because no mass shooting occurred. It was prevented. Incidentally, the man who opened fire was a convicted felon, meaning that by law he could not own a gun. This fact underscores a fundamental point: gun laws don’t stop criminals because, by definition, criminals are in the business of breaking the law.
Plenty of other examples of armed citizens stopping or preventing mass shootings could be listed. Here are a few:
In 2019, a man with a shotgun under his coat entered the West Freeway Church of Christ in north Texas during a Sunday service. He pulled out the shotgun and began firing. Within seconds, an armed parishioner, Jack Wilson, killed the shooter with a shot to the head from a legally carried pistol. Unfortunately, two parishioners were killed in the few seconds before Mr. Wilson had a clear shot at the killer, but the carnage undoubtedly would have been extreme had this armed citizen not taken down the shooter quickly.
In 2018, a man began shooting into a crowd of children and families in a park in Titusville, Florida. An armed citizen with a concealed-carry permit confronted the shooter. When the shooter pointed his gun at the armed citizen, the citizen shot him and neutralized the threat. Titusville Police Sergeant Bill Amos called the citizen “a hero,” adding, “It’s a miracle. That’s all you can say.”
In 2014, at a mental health center adjoining Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital near Philadelphia, a man with a record of violent crime and mental illness shot and killed a caseworker. He then began shooting at Dr. Lee Silverman, who returned fire with his own weapon and took the killer out of action. The shooter had thirty-nine unfired rounds of ammunition left. “Without a doubt, I believe the doctor saved lives,” said Police Chief Donald Molineux. “Without that firearm, this guy [the patient] could have went out in the hallway and just walked down the offices until he ran out of ammunition.”
In 2007, in Colorado Springs, New Life Church parishioner Jeanne Assam saw and heard a gunman shooting at church members in a long hallway. Ms. Assam sprinted to his location and shot him dead with her handgun. The gunman was armed with a rifle, two handguns, and up to a thousand rounds of ammunition. It turned out he had murdered two people in another location the previous evening, and he killed two others at the church before Ms. Assam got to him. The church’s senior pastor said that Ms. Assam “probably saved over a hundred lives.”
There are many of these heroic stories. But they rarely make it past local media reports, because they don’t fit the gun-control narrative that the national media peddle.
Other measures would help address mass shootings better than new gun-control laws. For instance, government needs to do a better job at identifying potential mass shooters and effectively intervening. The FBI ignored warnings about Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland school shooter. As for the shooter who terrorized a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017, the military repeatedly failed to report to the FBI firearm background check database a conviction that would have disqualified him from purchasing a firearm. Last year, public school authorities failed to intervene adequately when fifteen-year-old Ethan Crumbley posted threats online before shooting students at his high school in Oxford, Michigan. The shooter in Buffalo threatened a shooting at “a graduation ceremony, or sometime after” almost a year before he slaughtered 10 innocents at a supermarket.
Physical security for schools is also an obvious necessity. A depraved school shooter can’t murder innocent children in a classroom if he can’t get inside the school. The Uvalde elementary school had physical security, but the killer was able to enter the school through an unlocked back door. Armed defense by citizens helps to address not only mass shootings but criminal attacks generally. One would think that in making firearms policy, our politicians would consider both the harms and the benefits associated with firearms. But they don’t, and neither do the media. Instead, they focus on the misuse of firearms by criminals and crazies, while ignoring the lives that ordinary citizens save through the defensive use of guns.
Those defensive gun uses happen far more frequently than most people suspect. A 2013 study ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and conducted by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine found that “defensive use of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence.” A defensive gun use may not involve actually shooting an attacker, and it need not require even that a shot be fired. Simply displaying a firearm or warning the criminal that you are armed often suffices to deter a threat. According to the government’s study, “Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million.”
In the mid-1990s, respected criminologist Professor Gary Kleck conducted a large-scale survey and concluded that between 2.2 and 2.5 million defensive gun uses occur annually. A 2017 Pew survey suggested an average of 2.9 million defensive gun uses annually. In 2021, Professor William English of Georgetown University published the most comprehensive survey of firearm use ever conducted. His results show that Americans use guns defensively about 1.67 million times per year, which breaks down to 4,575 times each day. Think about that for a moment: every day some 4,575 lives are protected from injury (maybe even death) because of a firearm. Few of these “good guy with a gun” instances are ever reported in the media probably because most of these DGUs do not involve the firing of a single shot and, of course, most news outlets are uninterested in stories about guns saving lives (being far more interested in publicizing stories about guns taking lives).
Why do individual citizens use their privately owned firearms so frequently for self-defense? For the same reason that firearms can be crucial in preventing or halting mass shootings: in almost all cases, the police cannot possibly arrive in time. They come around to investigate after the fact. To save lives, those on the scene must take action immediately; remember, you are your own first responder.
And yet politicians and the media agitate for more laws that will make it much harder for ordinary people to defend themselves against violent criminals. Gun-control proponents insist that private arms are not needed in these “civilized” times characterized by increased crime and the defund the police movement. They tell us that we have the government and law enforcement to protect us. But the politicians and billionaires who want to disarm us clearly don’t believe that themselves, which is why they have their own armed security, bodyguards, and Secret Service and U.S. Marshals’ protection.
Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas made this point eloquently when he said: “For those of us who work in marbled halls, guarded constantly by a vigilant and dedicated police force, the guarantees of the Second Amendment might seem antiquated and superfluous. But the Framers made a clear choice: They reserved to all Americans the right to bear arms for self-defense. I do not think we should stand by idly while a State denies its citizens that right, particularly when their very lives may depend on it.”
The problem today is that some conservatives are not just standing idly by. No, it is much worse than that — they are joining in the left’s efforts to disarm us. But these severe restrictions on our constitutional right to keep and bear arms won’t stop mass shootings. Only armed intervention on the scene can help. Similarly, only armed citizens can effectively protect themselves and their families from criminal attack.
There is no excuse for any Republican to negotiate away our Second Amendment rights. Neither ignorance of firearms nor a desire to “do something” justifies embracing the civilian disarmament lobby’s agenda—in any respect. And why should law-abiding gun owners pay the price for the actions of homicidal psychopaths—unless there is a hidden agenda involved?
Mark W. Smith is a constitutional attorney, professor, and host of the Four Boxes Diner YouTube channel discussing Second Amendment issues and history.