Mass Murder and the Absurdity of the ‘More Guns’ Crowd

Tim Wise:

But among the least fortunate, most absurd commentary, will no doubt be the cacophony blaring from the throats of conservative gun-fanatics, who will insist — as they always do in times like this — that if more people were allowed to carry guns openly on their person, tragedies such as the one in Newtown could have been prevented. Indeed, the rush to blame liberals and gun control advocates for essentially disarming teachers and others who, naturally, could have saved all those lives has already begun. Larry Pratt, of Gun Owners of America has intoned, for instance, that “Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands.” Actually, of course, a gun owner — or rather, the son of a gun owner, represented, in effect, by Larry Pratt — has blood on his hands. The blood of 28 people in fact, but never should one let the facts get in the way of a good lobbying volley, I suppose.

The idea that more guns, in the hands of more people, and the elimination of “gun free zones” at schools and elsewhere would reduce the likelihood of mass shootings — since would-be shooters would rationally fear being stopped by a skilled marksman and thus wouldn’t risk launching a killing spree (or even if they did they would be stopped before their carnage was completed) — is illogical on multiple levels. That the ridiculousness of the position really needs to be spelled out only attests to the fantasy-world-like mental simplicity of the gun crowd, but in any event, here it is.

First, and most obviously, the kind of person who is willing to commit mass murder is not likely to be open to the rational-minded deterrence that fear of an armed bystander might otherwise provide. Adam Lanza, like Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris and Michael Wade Page, and many others before him, was willing and prepared to end his own life at the conclusion of his rampage. If anything, thinking that someone else might have intervened and assisted them in their desired suicide would have only emboldened them, as the longstanding tradition of “suicide by cop” — where a disturbed individual provokes police to shoot them rather than doing the deed themselves — attests. Likewise, that an armed third or fourth party might have interrupted their killing spree after only a few had been felled, rather than a dozen, two dozen, or more, would also not have likely mattered much to them from the pre-emptive standpoint. Persons such as this will kill as many as they can, no matter the possibility that someone else might also be carrying, and thus prevent them from realizing the maximum desired number of victims.

But even the more limited argument, that someone else carrying a weapon could have at least limited the number of dead in these instances, lacks any claim to rationality. Those who believe an armed teacher (or 2, or 3, or 5) could have stopped the Virginia Tech shooter, or the kids at Columbine, or Kip Kinkel, or most recently Adam Lanza, presuppose conditions at the scene that are absolutely fantasy-like, the stuff of video games, and surely bear no resemblance to the actual, real-world chaos that reigns in cases such as this. Simply put, it is one thing when one is serving in a war zone, or when one is a law enforcement officer, to come upon someone engaging in violent action, where confronting the shooter would be the logical and trained response. Soldiers and cops are prepared for such moments. But a kindergarten teacher or school principal or calculus professor, or whatever — even if that person is an expert shot — cannot be expected to react quickly and calmly enough to disarm a mass murderer. When such a person bursts into a classroom, the event is so utterly out of context, that the mere time it takes for those inside to even figure out what’s happening, would prove more than sufficient for these shooters to do their damage. So too in the Aurora, Colorado cineplex. Disoriented in that case by tear gas, an armed patron would have been firing blind into the fog, even presuming they would have had the presence of mind to pull their weapon and fire it at all. In cases like that, average people (again, as opposed to well-trained cops and soldiers) are thinking of saving their own lives, not engaging a killer in a hail of bullets.


  1. The article speaks less to gun control and more about better mental health access in the modern world.

    The gunman in this tragedy was not right in the head. He would have done violence with or without guns. Yes, the death toll might have been smaller without a gun, but that is secondary to the fact that the man was not right in the head.

    That is what everyone needs to focus upon.

    1. I agree with you. While I do not see any purpose in owning an assault rifle, I do believe the real problem is lack of mental health care and awareness.

      On a side note, I think it’s a little amusing that I — Dale — am replying to Chip.

    2. Nutcase + school + knife = 23 wounded, 0 dead

      Nutcase + school + gun = 2 wounded, 26 dead.

      I’m not saying there’s no room for debate (apart from anything else, there are too many guns in the US for gun control to have any hope – anyone who wanted to hold weapons in the face of a ban would be able to do so, and there are millions who would…). But although cases like this do highlight the need for better mental health care, it is (I think) pretty much incontrovertible that it is the guns that make these killings possible.

  2. For the record – Adam Lanza did kill come across someone who was well-armed. His mother. And he used her guns to kill her.

    Why doesn’t it ever occur to the “more guns is better” crowd that if teachers had guns and ammunition in the classroom for defense, that would actually be a very convenient thing for a deranged killer. You break into the class room, grab the gun and start killing – so much easier than finding your own gun!

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