On average, 14.3 victims are killed in each mass shooting that is stopped by the police. On average, only 2.3 victims are killed in each mass shooting that is stopped by civilian bystanders. We show how these facts were computed. Then we offer two possible explanations: First, police arrive too late. Second, armed bystanders are better trained.
Most of the following material was adapted with the author’s permission from “Auditing Shooting Rampage Statistics, July 31, 2012”, an original study by Davi Barker, a writer for Examiner.com.
Imagine yourself a non-LEO (non law enforcement officer) bystander when a mass shooting starts.
“Holy crap! that guy shot that other guy.”
“Oh my God! He’s just going to keep shooting people!”
[You call 911 and the dispatcher says that the police are on their way.]
“Holy crap! that guy shot that other guy.”
“Oh my God! He’s just going to keep shooting people!”
[You draw your own sidearm, aim, and fire.]
And the killer goes down.
How many innocent people on average wind up being killed in scenarios of type “A” versus type “B”?
First, some potentially overlapping definitions used by other researchers:
Spree shooting — the killer attacks people in multiple locations with no break between murders. (As in the Virginia Tech killer who began shooting in one hall, and then walked across campus and continued shooting in another hall.)
Mass shooting — the killer murders multiple people, usually in a single location. (As in the Fort Hood shooter who killed 13 people in one room of a military base.)
School shooting — can be either a spree shooting or a mass shooting as long as one or more locations is a school. (As in the Columbine shooting, which is also a spree shooting because the killers went from room to room.)
Rampage shooting — all of the above without differentiation.
The following sources were mined for mass shootings
According to Davi Barker:
I selected these lists because they were the most comprehensive of those that I found, and I was seeking as large a data set as possible. I combined them all, including the first 10 from my previous post, and removed all redundant data for a total list of 93 shootings.
While the list was comprehensive, the details about each shooting were not. In each shooting I had a date and a location, but often important details, like the number of people killed, or how the shooter was apprehended were missing. So, I set to the long task researching each incident to fill in the missing data. I didn’t incorporate the number of wounded people because so many were not reported. But the reason they call a single death a shooting rampage is because there were many injuries. All relevant data is contained in the links in the finished list below or in the timelines linked above. Most of the data came from either Wikipedia, a mainstream news article about the incident, or a handy resource I discovered called Murderpedia. — from Barker’s original study
Barker’s study includes only rampage shootings that fit two criteria: (1) bystanders were indiscriminately targeted and (2) the shooter was forcibly stopped from killing more people. Here, for example, are some well-known cases that were excluded from the tabulation.
New York NY, 24 August 2012 — Jeffrey Johnson shot his former boss to death in front of the Empire State Building. The incident is excluded from the study because no bystanders were targeted. Although the mainstream newsmedia initially reported the incident as a mass shooting, in fact the nine wounded bystanders were all shot by the NYPD. Also, the killer was not forcibly stopped from killing more people. He had walked away from the murder scene after his cheap gun jammed.
Savannah GA, 10 March 2000 — Darrell Ingram shot up a high school dance and fled the scene only to be apprehended later after a long investigation. (Not forcibly stopped.)
Mount Morris MI, 29 February 2000 — Dedric Darnell Owens shot and killed his classmate Kayla Rolland and then threw his handgun in a wastebasket. (No indiscriminate shooting of bystanders. Not forcibly stopped.)
Carnation WA 24 December 2007 — Michele Kristen Anderson killed her entire family at a Christmas Party. (No indiscriminate shooting of bystanders.)
Fullerton CA, 12 July 1976 — Edward Charles Allaway shot up a library then fled to a nearby hotel and called police to turn himself in. (Not forcibly stopped.)
One case that fit both criteria was also excluded because it could not be tabulated one way or the other.
Tacoma WA, 20 November 2005 — Dominick Maldonado went on a shooting rampage in a shopping mall. He was confronted by two armed citizens who interrupted his shooting but did not fire for fear of hitting innocent bystanders. The shooter surrendered to police when they arrived. It is impossible to classify whether this incident was stopped by bystanders or by police.
Incidentally, incidents where the killer committed suicide were included, but only if the suicide was triggered by the killer’s being forcibly stopped from his rampage. In such cases, the suicide itself was not included in the count of deaths.
What remains in the data set are rampage shootings in which a killer went someplace public, began firing at random people, and was forcibly stopped.
The Final Data Set of Mass Shooting Incidents
[The following list is copied verbatim from Barker’s original study.]
9/6/1949 – Howard Barton Unruh went on a shooting rampage in Camden, New Jersey with a German Luger. He shot up a barber shop, a pharmacy and a tailor’s shop killing 13 people. He finally surrendered after a shoot-out with police.
8/1/1966 – Charles Joseph Whitman climbed a tower at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas and began shooting at other students and faculty with a sniper rifle. He killed 16 people before being shot and killed by police.
7/18/1984 – James Oliver Huberty shot up a McDonalds in San Ysidro, California killing 21 people before police shoot and killed him.
10/16/1991 – George Hennard entered Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas and began indiscriminately shooting the patrons. He killed 23 people in all. He commit suicide after being cornered and wounded in a shootout with police.
11/15/1995 – Jamie Rouse used a .22-caliber semi-automatic rifle to fire indiscriminately inside Richland High School in Lynnville, Tennessee. He killed 2 people before being tackled by a football player and a coach.
2/2/1996 – Barry Loukaitis entered Frontier Middle School in Moses Lake, Washington with a rifle and two handguns. He killed 3 people before the Gym teacher, Jon Lane grabbed the rifle and wrestled the gunman to the ground.
10/1/1997 – Luke Woodham put on a trench coat to conceal a hunting rifle and entered Pearl High School in Pearl, Mississippi. He killed 3 students before vice principal Joel Myrick apprehended him with a Colt .45 without firing.
12/1/1997 – Michael Carneal brought a pistol, two rifles and two shotguns to his high school in Paducah, Kentucky and opened fire on a small prayer group killing 3 girls. His rampage was halted when he was tackled by another student.
4/24/1998 – Andrew Wurst attended a middle school dance in Edinboro, Pennsylvania intent on killing a bully but shot wildly into the crowd. He killed 1 student. James Strand lived next door. When he heard the shots he ran over with his 12 gauge shotgun and apprehended the gunman without firing.
5/21/1998 – Kipland Kinkel entered Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon with two pistols and a semi-automatic rifle hidden under a trench coat. He opened fire killing 2 students, but while reloading a wounded student named Jacob Ryker tackled him.
4/20/1999 – Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were the killers behind the Columbine shooting in Littleton, Colorado. The two both commit suicide after police arrived, but what many people do not know is that the school’s armed security guard and the police all stood and waited outside the library while executions happened right inside. 15 people died, not including the shooters.
7/31/1999 – Mark Barton was a daytrader who went on a shooting rampage through two day trading firms in Atlanta, Georgia. He killed 12 people in all and after a police chase he was surrounded by police at a gas station where he commit suicide.
1/16/2002 – Peter Odighizuwa opened fire with a handgun at The Appalachian School in Grundy, Virginia. 3 people were killed before the shooter was apprehended by 3 students, Mikael Gross, Ted Besen, and Tracy Bridges with handguns without firing.
8/27/2003 – Salvador Tapia entered an auto parts store in Chicago, Illinois and shot and killed 6 people with a handgun. He then waged a gunbattle with police before a SWAT team fatally wounded him.
9/24/2003 – John Jason McLaughlin brought a .22-caliber pistol to Rocori High School in Cold Spring, Minnesota. He killed 2 people before PE teacher, Mark Johnson confronted him, disarmed him, and held him in the school office for police to arrive.
2/25/2005 – David Hernandez Arroyo Sr. opened fire on a public square from the steps of a courthouse in Tyler, Texas. The shooter was armed with an assault rifle and wearing body armor. Mark Wilson fired back with a handgun, hitting the shooter but not penetrating the armor. Mark drew the shooter’s fire, and ultimately drove him off, but was fatally wounded. Mark was the only death in this incident.
3/21/2005 – Jeff Weise was a student at Red Lake High School in Red Lake, Minnesota. He killed 7 people including a teacher and a security guard. When police cornered him inside the school, he shot and killed himself.
11/8/2005 – Kenneth Bartley, Jr. brought a .22 caliber pistol to Campbell County Comprehensive High School in Jacksboro, Tennessee and killed 1 person before being disarmed by a teacher.
9/29/2006 – Eric Hainstock brought a .22 caliber revolver and a 20-gauge shotgun into Weston High School in Cazenovia, Wisconson. He killed 1 person before staff and students apprehended him and held him until the police arrived.
4/16/2007 – Seung-Hui Cho was the shooter behind the Virgina Tech shooting in Blacksburg, Virginia. Police apprehend the wrong suspect allowing the shooter to walk across campus and open fire again in a second location. He eventually commit suicide after murdering 32 people.
9/3/2008 – Isaac Zamora went on a shooting rampage in Alger, Washington that killed 6 people, including a motorist shot during a high speed chase with police. He eventually surrendered to police.
3/29/2009 – Robert Stewart went on a killing rampage armed with a rifle, and a shotgun in a nursing home in Carthage, North Carolina. He killed 8 people and was apprehended after a shootout with police.
4/3/2009 – Jiverly Wong went on a shooting rampage at a American Civic Association immigration center in Binghamton, New York where he was enrolled in a citizenship class. 13 people were killed before the shooter killed himself. Witnesses say he turned the gun on himself as soon as he heard police sirens approaching.
11/5/2009 – Nidal Malik Hasan was the shooter behind the Fort Hood shooting at a military base just outside Killeen, Texas. The shooter entered the Soldier Readiness Processing Center, where personnel are disarmed, armed with a laser sighted pistol and a Smith & Wesson revolver. He killed 13 people before he was shot by a Civilian Police officer.
2/12/2010 – Amy Bishop went on a shooting rampage in classroom at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama. She killed 3 people before the Dean of the University, Debra Moriarity pushed the her out of the room and blockaded the door. She was arrested later.
1/8/2011 – Jared Lee Loughner is charged with the shooting in Tucson, Arizona that killed 6 people, including Chief U.S. District Court Judge John Roll. He was stopped when he was tackled by two civilians.
2/27/2012 – T.J. Lane entered Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio with a handgun and started shooting. 3 students died. The shooter was chased out of the building by a teacher and apprehended by police later.
4/22/2012 – Kiarron Parker opened fire in a church parking lot in Aurora, Colorado. The shooter killed 1 person before being shot and killed by a member of the congregation who was carrying concealed.
7/20/2012 – James Holmes went into a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and opened fire with an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle. 12 people were killed, before the shooter surrendered to police.
Fourteen incidents were stopped by police with a total of 200 dead. That comes to 14.3 murdered victims per incident. Fifteen incidents were stopped by bystanders with a total of 35 dead. That comes to 2.3 murdered victims per incident.
According to Barker:
The first point I want to draw your attention to is that roughly half of shooting rampages end in suicide anyway. What that means is that police are not even in a position to stop most of them. Only the civilians present at the time of the shooting have any opportunity to stop those shooters. That’s probably more important than the statistic itself. In a shooting rampage, counting on the police to intervene at all is a coin flip at best.
Second, within the civilian category, ten of the fifteen shootings were stopped by unarmed civilians. What’s amazing about that is that whether armed or not, when a civilian plays hero it seems to save a lot of lives. The courthouse shooting in Tyler, Texas was the only incident where the heroic civilian was killed. In that incident the hero was armed with a handgun and the villain was armed with an assault rifle and body armor.
If you compare the average of people killed in shootings stopped by armed civilians and unarmed civilians you get 1.8 and 2.6, but that’s not nearly as significant as the difference between a proactive civilian, and a cowering civilian who waits for police.
So, given that far less people die in rampage shootings stopped by a proactive civilian, only civilians have any opportunity to stop rampage shootings in roughly half of incidents, and armed civilians do better on average than unarmed civilians, wouldn’t you want those heroic individuals who risk their lives to save others to have every tool available at their disposal? — from Barker’s original study
Frank W Sweet’s Additional Comments
Barker’s findings are beyond reproach and his conclusions persuasive. Nevertheless, two additional observations apply: First, some of Barker’s source material is questionable. Second, some LEOs lack training in combat pistol tactics.
Some of Barker’s source material is questionable.
Media sources are often inaccurate, sometimes from journalist ignorance, sometimes from deliberate falsification. This is not criticism of Barker’s research. Doubtful items in the above data set are few in number and cannot affect either the study’s findings nor its conclusions. We nitpick merely because other knowledgeable readers also will notice them, so they should be at least mentioned. Four examples: assault rifle, body armor, police bullets, and “unarmed” bystanders.
Assault Rifle — The words “assault rifle” appear thrice above in the newsmedia reports, but are never defined. In the precise technical jargon of gunsmiths and armorers, the sole difference between an assault rifle and a regular rifle is that the former is capable of automatic fire but the latter is not. If this was the meaning intended in the news reports, then they are false. None of the above incidents involved an assault rifle. On the other hand, if the reporters used the term with some other denotation, their not explaining their meaning is ignorant and sloppy reporting.
Body Armor — News reports of the 2/25/2005 Tyler TX and the 7/20/2012 Aurora CO shootings said that the shooter wore “body armor” or “bulletproof vest”. This is semi-accurate in the former incident–Arroyo wore a homemade covering of bullet-resistant layers of material. It wholly false in the latter–Holmes’s “tactical vest” was simply a cotton vest with lots of pockets like photographers use.
Police Bullets– Reports of the 8/24/2012 Empire State Building shooting (an incident not included in the tabulation) now reveal that all nine of the wounded innocent bystanders were shot by the police. Those reports were published despite efforts by the NYPD to deny and then suppress the information. The cover-up collapsed only when hospitalized victims insisted to reporters that they saw exactly who shot them–a cop. This suggests that part of the discrepancy between 14.3 dead when a shooting is stopped by police and 2.3 when stopped by bystanders is due to police bullets. This does not mitigate shooters’ guilt, of course. A felon commits felony murder whenever someone dies consequent to his crime, no matter who pulls the trigger. And it does not alter the likelihood that most of the 14.3 versus 2.3 discrepancy is because bystanders are present long before police arrive. As the cliche says, “When seconds count, police are minutes away.” Nevertheless, police training is important and we come back to it shortly.
“Unarmed” Bystanders — Some of the incidents tallied in the “unarmed bystander” column could have been counted as “armed bystanders”. The two men who subdued the killer in the 1/8/2011 Tucson AZ shooting were both licensed, armed citizens who were carrying concealed pistols. They chose to overpower the shooter physically, but they had the option and the capability to shoot him had he broken free. Initial news reports of the 1/16/2002 Grundy VA shooting stated that the students who stopped the murders were unarmed. (Barker, in contrast, got it right.) This was deliberate falsification by the newsmedia at the request of the students themselves. They stopped the murders by running back to their cars in the parking lot and retrieving their legally licensed handguns. But having guns on campus (even legally licensed guns locked in car trunk safes) was grounds for expulsion and criminal prosecution of the heroic students. So police, students, college authorities, and reporters all agreed to lie to the public that the students were unarmed. The truth came out years later. Again, scenarios like these give reason to suspect that some of the other “unarmed” bystanders were actually armed.
Some LEOs lack training in combat pistol tactics.
When it comes to combat pistol tactics civilians have a great training advantage over LEOs. Civilians can train constantly in one thing only: stopping a deadly threat as quickly, efficiently, and safely as possible. Because civilians know that every bullet has a lawyer attached to it, they must memorize the NRA’s fourth rule of gun safety: be sure of your target and what is behind it. For example, instructors teach combat pistol trainees in a crowd to automatically drop to one knee and fire upwards at the threat, so that misses and through-shots ricochet upwards and away. In contrast, two retired NYPD officers confided to the author that their former agency’s “wall of bullets” defense is called “spray and pray” by the patrol officers.
Unfortunately, many LEO agencies lack the funds or time to train patrol officers in combat pistol tactics. Some agencies can afford no more than a once- or twice-a-year “qualification” shooting at unmoving paper targets. And all LEOs are burdened with having to learn huge volumes of laws and policies, from the difference between PC and RAS, to how Wilson expanded Mimms, to how Whren affects Terry, to ticket-writing procedures. Combat pistol tactics are an infinitesimally small part of the LEO’s job.
Nevertheless, combat pistol training is important. When under sudden stress, people react automatically. The purpose of training is to ensure that what becomes automatic is also fast, effective, and safe.
Whether you accept from this article Barker’s plea that more trained civilians should carry guns, or my plea that police officers be trained in combat pistol tactics is unimportant. What is important, and what you should take away, are the two central numbers: 14.3 versus 2.3. When bystanders act, fewer victims die.
Next Time: Death by Defiance
Here is a good resource for teaching unarmed office workers and classroom students how to survive a mass shooting by fighting back.
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Frank W. Sweet is an NRA-certified firearms instructor who teaches the safe and effective use of handguns for self-defense. He was awarded an M.A. in Civil War Studies in military history from American Military University in 2001. He is the author of Legal History of the Color Line (ISBN 9780939479238), Six Gems of Forgotten Civil War History (ISBN 9780939479023), and of numerous published historical essays. To receive a schedule of his firearms training courses, email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The information above should not be construed as legal advice.
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