INDIANAPOLIS, December 15, 2014 — Are we seeing more lunatics using guns lately, or is there just more coverage of those incidents that happen? Either way, if you are not the one who’s shooting, what can you do?
In random mass murders, as in Aurora, Seattle, and Southern California, the gunman isn’t looking to kill a specific person. He is more likely a deranged individual who is seeking notoriety, assuaging his frustration or despair, perhaps wanting to end it all, but without the self-discipline to take his own life quietly. You’re not going to talk him out of it.
It’s best to not be there, so if you can get away, get away. If you can’t get away, hide. If you can’t hide, be invisible: Don’t stand out. Be still. Avoid eye contact. Don’t talk, cry, beg, yell or sob.
All that advice is not comforting if you are in a situation where you are waiting for a crazy person to run out of ammunition. Could there be better advice, advice that would give you a better chance?
It has been said that on September 11, 2001, if every passenger over 18 had been given a gun as they boarded the doomed airliners, the worst imaginable outcome could not have been worse than what actually happened. Innocent people would have been injured or killed, but not 3000 of them. But it’s insane to hand out guns to everyone, so is there a practical solution? Yes, perhaps several.
Fortunately, airlines have better security today than they had in 2001.
Not because of the Department of Homeland Security; the TSA is a joke. Instead, security I mean the locked cockpit, more Air Marshals (they’re really up there, right?), and above all the heightened awareness among travelers and airport and airline staff. Since that horrible Tuesday, every provable threat to our commercial air travel system that has been thwarted, has been stopped by alert crew and/or passengers.
But what about the rest of our lives, when we’re not riding in airplanes?
In schools, we have special cases, and we’ll come back to schools later. But in the public places where common sense may yet prevail, we have more options.
One obvious solution is to have police everywhere, but that situation seriously curbs civil liberties. North Korea, which admittedly does not have mass killings, has elected this option. Another option is to have all the good guys trained in martial arts and to overwhelm the bad guys, as in those crummy Kung Fu movies. Or a good guy or two, strategically placed, imbued with wisdom and restraint, and also imbued with overwhelming force – a superior weapon. Or the fear in the bad guy that there may be some such person in the proximity of the planned crime.
Which hints at one reasonable deterrent: regular citizens, armed at random.
It’s not that these citizens would automatically attack the bad guy. The deterrent comes because the bad guy would have no way to know which good guy might be armed and able to undermine his nefarious scheme. A bad guy, so confused and uncertain, might thus be inclined to rethink his crime. And of course, an armed citizenry would certainly be welcome in the event of an actual attack.
Schools are a different situation. Even if authorities knew of the Sandy Hook attack in advance, it is unlikely that the gun-phobic community would have allowed anyone in the school to be armed. In other districts, though, a certain percent of teachers and administrators might volunteer to assume the awesome responsibility of being a “last resort” response force.
It is more likely that standard security protocols would be tolerated. Monitored entrances and reasonable ID for everyone indoors are good starts. Areas where outsiders have regular access, such as cafeteria delivery, can be locked off from the rest of the facility except when a vetted school officer is with them.
True, many of these were in place at Sandy Hook, but a tightening of those procedures likely would help.
Communities may find something in their budgets to place armed security in the schools. This, along with secure entrances and an aware staf, would be a sensible plan of how to respond if the threat of violence in the school is great enough.
Outside schools, what about the rest of us? Does one citizen with a gun ever really matter?
Years ago, I talked with Dr. Suzanna Gratia (now Hupp), who routinely carried a .38 revolver in her purse, and who regularly practiced with it so she would be proficient. One day in 1991, she went to lunch with her parents in Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas. Texas law at the time prohibited guns in “public places.”
Susanna obediently left her pistol in the car. Minutes after the family sat down, a lunatic with a gun drove his truck into the restaurant and, shooting with two 9mm pistols, killed patrons and employees at will. “I had a perfect shot at him,” she told me, “but my gun was in the car. My parents are dead because I obeyed that law.” Her parents were among the 23 killed. Her father tried to rush the gunman and was shot in the chest; her mother was killed while cradling her dying husband’s head in her arms. Twenty more were shot, before the killer finally took his own life, after police finally arrived.
Luby’s remains the worst non-school mass shooting in U.S. history.
Would everyone have lived if Susanna had brought her own gun with her? Probably not. But would forty-three innocent people have been shot?
Still, when rational people advocate for responsible gun laws that allow wider carry, ignorant alarmists cry “wild west,” as depicted in popular culture. Even in the movies, though, common sense usually prevailed. The bad guy eventually met up with a good guy with a gun, or sometimes a whole town with good guys with guns, and the problem is resolved.
It has ever been thus: evil must be conquered. It rarely is talked, or legislated, into becoming good.