I recall hearing, more than once, that only trained professionals can safely handle firearms. I recall from the same sources, that having armed civilians about during a public shooting, instead of the police only, would lead to innocent bystanders getting shot. I do not specifically recall NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly being one of those sources; though, I think that he would agree with their sentiments. And now we read that Commissioner Kelly has said that NYPD gunfire in the Empire State Building shooting wounded all nine bystanders. Or put another way, nine innocent bystanders got shot by trained professionals.
Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that the two officers involved didn’t act in a completely appropriate, professional, and competent manner. They were suddenly thrust into a very dangerous situation with only two options: engage the suspect, despite the crowds of people around them and the risk of injuries in the crowd, or do nothing, and risk having the suspect begin deliberately shooting into the crowd. Shooting with crowds of people around, obviously, risks hitting bystanders either with rounds that miss and strike the victim, rounds that miss, strike something else, and then wound the victim with fragments, or with rounds or fragments that pass through the intended target. Doing nothing, on the other hand, could lead to the officers getting shot thus leaving the perpetrator in command of the scene. They chose the less awful course of action and stopped the suspect.
Now how does this relate to armed civilians in a similar situation? The argument that only trained professionals can safely handle firearms stems from the belief that only trained professionals can safely fire into a crowd and hit the perpetrator and only the perpetrator. When you see that argument in print, it looks patently ridiculous, doesn’t it? It’s an absurd point of view. Those who hold it hope desperately that you won’t look too closely at it because what follows is an equally silly belief; that you are safer waiting for the police to arrive than if someone around you opened fire on the suspect. The equivalent argument would be that the officers at the Empire State Building should have waited for a SWAT team to arrive. But as we’ve seen in places like Norway, Wisconsin, or Aurora, leaving an armed suspect in control of a scene, even for a few minutes, only leads to more dead and injured innocents. An armed response, any armed response, is better than no response at all.
This isn’t mere speculation from some gun nut. Economists John Lott and William Landes studied the effect of concealed weapons laws on multiple victim shootings. Their study concluded that allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons decreases the number and severity of these attacks. But, you might argue, wouldn’t stricter gun laws make the US a more peaceful place like Europe? In fact, John Lott found that Europe experiences more and worse attacks of this sort.
Concealed carry has a dual effect in mass public shootings. One is obvious: The bad guy gets shot. The other is more subtle: disappointment. The shooter usually wishes to go out in a blaze of glory. He intends to revenge himself upon a world that has wronged him. But the last thing he wants is to see his opus interrupted by some yutz with a gun. That would be the world’s final insult to the shooter. This deters the shooter in the first place. Thus having armed citizens about, not just easily identifiable “trained professionals”, makes the public square a safer place.