By David Rittgers
ABC’s 20/20 did a hit
piece on the Second Amendment and armed citizens on Friday night. The show
responded to the growing sentiment that “if I only had a gun,” maybe an armed
citizen could make a difference in a spree shooting such as the incidents at
Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University. In reality, it ought to be
called “if I had ONLY a gun.” Picking people without concealed carry permits to
represent the armed citizen and rigging the scenario to ensure that they don’t
defeat your narrative is propaganda, not journalism.
Several college students are selected to represent the “armed student”
hypothetical, given some marksmanship training, and armed with training guns
that shoot paint bullets. The firearms instructor who trained them plays spree
shooter and storms the room. All of the students are hit before they can
effectively engage the mock spree shooter.
The show handicaps this scenario in favor of the attacker in several ways.
First, none of the students selected are actual concealed handgun
permit holders who carry daily and practice regularly. Those with more
experience get it from shooting Airsoft guns or from a form of shooting that
does not involve drawing from concealment. The poor performance of the students
in hitting the attacker is supposedly explained by the lack of law enforcement
The simulation is too narrowly construed to show the full impact of an armed
response. First, the experiment is limited to one armed student in the first
classroom that the spree shooter hits. At Virginia Tech, the spree shooter
entered several rooms, so a student in any room other than the first would be
able to draw, find a position of cover and concealment, point the gun at the
door, and wait for the assailant to enter. Second, the experiment supposes that
an intended victim pulling a gun and shooting back, even if not immediately
effective, does nothing to stop the attack.
These results don’t reflect the reality of an armed citizen responding to a
spree shooter. Contrary to what the firearms instructor says, it is not “too
much for a normal person” to deal with. Often, the mere confrontation with an
armed response takes them out of their revenge fantasy and derails the killing
1997, Pearl, Mississippi: A 16-year old boy stabs his mother to death, then
goes to the local high school to continue his rampage with a rifle. An
assistant principal hears the gunshots, retrieves a pistol from his truck, and
confronts the assailant. The boy surrenders.
1998, Edinboro, Pennsylvania: A 14-year old boy opens fire at a high school
graduation dance being held at a local restaurant. The restaurant owner confronts the boy with his shotgun, who
2005, Tyler, Texas: A distraught man ambushes his estranged wife and son as
they are entering the courthouse for a child support hearing. After killing his
wife and wounding several deputies, armed citizen Mark Wilson intervenes with his handgun and
shoots the spree shooter. The shooter is wearing a flak jacket and kills Wilson
with return fire. Wilson’s actions broke up the attack and gave law enforcement
officers time to organize a response that ended with the shooter’s death.
Wilson is later honored by the Texas legislature.
2005, Tacoma Mall: A spree shooter with a criminal record and five days’
worth of meth in his system opens fire at the Tacoma Mall. Concealed carry
permit holder Dan McKown intervenes, but gives a verbal warning instead of
shooting. McKown is shot and receives a spinal injury that leaves him
paralyzed, but the shooter retreated into a store and took some hostages after
being confronted. After complaining about life’s travails to
his hostages for several hours, he is taken into custody and sentenced to 163 years in prison.
2007, New Life Church, Colorado: Volunteer security guard Jeanne Assam shoots a spree shooter as he enters
the foyer of a church. The spree shooter’s blaze of glory is over, so he shoots
and kills himself.
2008, Israel: A Palestinian man goes on a killing spree in the library of a
seminary. Police officers stop at the door and do not go in
after him. Student Yitzhak Dadon draws his gun and engages the shooter, wounding him. Part-time
student and Israeli Army officer David Shapira blows past the cops, demanding a hat to identify
him as a police officer and not the assailant, before entering the building and
killing the spree shooter.
2009, Houston, Texas: Distraught woman enters her father’s workplace and
shoots one man with a bow and arrow. She points a pellet gun at two employees,
both concealed handgun permit holders, who shoot her. Police show up and she
points the pellet gun at them. They shoot her again and take her into
The scenario is also unrealistic in that the student is seated dead center in
the front row, a bad move for someone trying to conceal a gun on their hip under
a T-shirt; far better in the back of the room in a corner. Plus, the spree
shooter is expecting resistance and knows where the armed student will be,
advantages that will not be replicated in the real world. In one iteration of
the scenario, a second assailant is placed a couple of seats away from the armed
student. When the armed student draws to shoot at the assailant, he is
blindsided by the co-conspirator. This isn’t a result of “tunnel vision,” as
the program would tell you. This is a rigging of the experiment. A second
assailant in placed practically next to the armed student, while our amateur is
wearing a face mask that restricts vision? No one, not even the firearms
instructor playing spree shooter, would win in that situation.
There are no magical powers that accrue to a sworn officer, contrary to the
anti-concealed carry propaganda this piece puts out. A recent NYPD Firearms
Discharge Report shows that hit percentages for a major metropolitan
police department never rise above the 50% mark, even within two yards of the
assailant. Unsurprisingly, people who carry a gun and train with it
consistently outperform those who do not. The FBI’s report “Violent Encounters:
A Study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nation’s Law Enforcement Officers” shows that criminals who beat cops in
gunfights practiced regularly while their victims only averaged 14 hours of
firearms training a year.
The only thing that stops a spree shooter is a bullet, either from their gun
when they commit suicide or from someone else who intervenes to stop further
loss of life. Law enforcement responses that quarantine the shooter compound the problem, while aggressive “active
shooter” protocols that push police officers into the scene in small teams or as
individuals tend to reduce casualties. The police
response is moving toward being on the scene as fast as possible with a gun; we
ought to follow their reasoning and allow people to have a fighting chance, not
advise them to play dead and call the cops on their cell phone. When seconds
count, the police are only minutes away.