Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion on CNN.
Finally, gun enthusiasts found themselves a good guy with a gun.
After more than 45,000 gun deaths in 2020 and more than 24,000 already this year, one legally armed bystander – a young man carrying a handgun in an Indiana mall – was able to use his weapon to kill a mass shooter. Conservatives are applauding this as a victory for their grand theory of public safety: A nation so awash in weapons that a “good guy with a gun” will be around to take out a bad guy with a gun. Or as the National Rifle Association put it: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
But on closer inspection, the math doesn’t quite work.
Even with a “good guy” present, the Indiana mall shooter was still able to kill three people, injure two and traumatize many others. That’s not a victory against gun violence; it’s a horrific scenario by any measure. And even the “good guy” with the gun wasn’t exactly following the rules – the mall doesn’t allow weapons on its property and he brought one in anyway.
The horrifying school shooting in Uvalde, Texas and the nightmarish failures of armed law enforcement agents to stop it should also put the “good guy with a gun” theory permanently to rest. As a shooter murdered children and teachers in their classrooms for 77 minutes, nearly 400 trained “good guys” with guns gathered outside and did… nothing. Trained law enforcement officers armed to the teeth – people paid by taxpayers to be “good guys with guns” – failed at taking out a mass shooter. We simply cannot rely on more guns to solve our gun violence epidemic.
Yes, it is good that a random armed man was able to take out a would-be mass shooter in Indiana, and yes it could have been much worse there: The shooter used an AR-15-style rifle, had other weapons at the ready and had more than 100 rounds of ammunition – and as is so often the case in mass shootings, he had purchased his fatal weapon legally.
That is the problem we should be focusing on – not the lack of other armed folks around to take out homicidal maniacs. If it wasn’t possible to easily buy weapons of mass death, we wouldn’t see nearly as much mass death. We know this because the US is unique among nations in our lax gun laws, and as a result, we are also unique among nations in our obscene rates of gun violence, from mass shootings to gun murders to gun suicides to accidental gun deaths.
Three people dead is not a win just because it could have been much worse. Three people joining the tens of thousands already killed this year by guns should be a mark of shame, not a rallying cry for more guns. The fact that this is the best story gun proponents have – “three people were killed but it would have been an even more horrific bloodbath if not for another armed citizen” – should demonstrate how wholly bankrupt their position truly is.
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Compare this Indiana mall shooting to a recent shooting at a mall in Copenhagen. In the Copenhagen shooting, three people were also killed. But in Denmark, a nation that hadn’t seen a mass shooting since 2015, a mall shooting that killed three was a horrific and aberrant event. In America, it’s being touted by gun proponents as a victory for the armed. Even those of us who are sickened by these stories are so awash in them that we may become desensitized to all but the most extreme mass gun murders.
If “good guys with guns” were the solution to gun violence, then America would be the safest country on Earth. After all, we have more guns than people in the US – and yet more Americans have been killed by guns since 1968 have been killed in all of America’s wars combined.
The problem isn’t a lack of good guys. The problem is all the guns.