The Myth of the Imperiled Bystander

When someone suggests eliminating gun free zones like schools and shopping malls, one of the imagined scenarios that prompts people to shriek and hike up their skirts is the specter of innocent bystanders being hosed down with lead. Like most such things, this is not a real-world eventuality. With millions of armed citizens in the nation and hundreds of thousands of defensive gun uses, you’d be hard-pressed to find a “non combatant” hit by a stray bullet…unless they were hit by a cop . . .

Given how the media go to great lengths to paint gun owners in the worst possible light, if collateral injury or death were common in defensive gun uses, they’d constantly be highlighted on the evening news. The very fact that there are no (or so few) such incidents  is a testament to their rarity. Like so many professed fears of the anti-gun crowd, this isn’t founded in reality.

That said, if an armed citizen should stop an active shooter, but inadvertently wounds or kills a bystander, the bystander was still within the danger zone created by the active shooter. That injury or death would have to be weighed against the lives saved by ending the threat, particularly if the criminal was a likely spree killer.

Further, the individual defending himself has a moral right to armed self-defense. If an innocent bystander is hurt or killed in the process, our laws recognize that that death is the fault of the criminal, not the person defending their own life. Expecting a man or woman to be defenseless in order to prevent the theoretically possible injury or death of someone else is itself immoral. An individual may choose to hold their fire, but they are not obligated to, either morally or legally.

A person bent on murder is by nature a greater threat to the innocent than someone engaged in self defense. To spell it out for those driven by emotion rather than logic, a spree killer who succeeds in killing looks for another target, a defensive shooter stops shooting once the threat is neutralized.

Spree shooters who meet no resistance kill far more than those who are actively opposed. As an example consider two incidents, one in a mall in Oregon, the other in a school in Connecticut. At the shopping mall, the active shooter was held to two victims by a man with a firearm. At the school, the gun free zone allowed the murderer to take down over ten times that amount. At least two adults confronted the killer in the school. Unarmed, they were simply shot down.

This sad calculus is born out over the history of mass shootings. It’s almost always someone with a gun – police or an armed citizen – that stops a spree killer, and the sooner they are stopped, the more lives are saved.

Bad guys with guns are only stopped by good guys with guns, and cops aren’t the only good guys. Like so many other concerns about firearms in the hands of private citizens, the actual statistical value of an armed citizen opposing a mass murderer is real, and the downside of innocent bystanders being struck is only theoretical. The armed citizen mowing down a crowd is a myth – it simply doesn’t happen in any statistically meaningful way. This myth like all the other myths about self-defense with a firearm should have no bearing in a debate about banning gun free zones.

27 Responses to The Myth of the Imperiled Bystander

  1. avatarJim Barrett says:

    “Further, the individual defending himself has a moral right to armed self-defense. If an innocent bystander is hurt or killed in the process, our laws recognize that that death is the fault of the criminal, not the person defending their own life. ”

    Ummm. That is a pretty general statement. Laws differ in every state and in some states, if you start shooting, you are responsible for every bullet that leaves your gun. Kill an innocent bystander by mistake (or even worse, a cop) and you are likely to be facing some pretty substantial legal defense costs and possible jail time.

    • avatarPaul says:

      Look up LIBOR Scandel. Holmes and Lanza are connected. Both of their fathers were scheduled to testify on this before congress. There is far more than these two just going off their nut. This is all a plan to get us to knuckle down and become defenseless.

    • avatarJoseph says:

      Jim,

      I have to agree, even if that statement was true and there were no way you could face criminal charges for anything occuring during a legitimate DGU someone who were to injure or kill a bystander would still be open to civil law suits from the “victim” of their actions.

  2. avatarKCK says:

    Most every article we read here on TTAG is right on the money, why?
    Because we are the choir, Rev/Rabi/Guru Farago has gathered the faithful but how do we get this stuff in front of the eyes of the rest of the country( the non-believers)?

    RF likes analogies so ,even though an atheist, I thought the one above is a good one

  3. avatarCommon Sense says:

    When I hear the argument, “if somebody had been armed it could only have been worse” I can’t believe people are that stupid. True, an armed citizen might not stop the shooter, although it is also possible that they might. That said, please explain to me how having an armed citizen in the Aurora movie theater, or Sandy Hook Elementary School, could have made things WORSE. Even IF a bystander was wounded or killed in the crossfire by the citizen defending themselves, how can you argue that it would be WORSE than 20 dead 1st graders. Its astounding. Even if the armed citizen is killed before he can stop the assailant, and the assailant continues on his murderous rampage, how can that be WORSE than what happened in Aurora or Sandy Hook. The logic behind this absurd mindset boggles my mind.

    • avatarEvan says:

      I think the argument that I have heard most is that, “if the armed citizen gets killed well then, the shooter will have two guns.” Maybe this fear stems from the fact that one gun is bad so two guns is double bad. But I think most of the fear comes from the fact that now the shooter will have more ammo. I think this is irrational since I don’t think running out of ammo has really been what ended a shooting. When someone’s going to go on a rampage( especially these guys who love the planning stages) they don’t forget to bring enough ammo.

      Just to clarify, I think it’s idiotic to think that an armed citizen would only make it worse, but this seems to be the oppositions argument, even if it is s bad one.

    • avatartjlarson2k says:

      “if somebody had been armed it could only have been worse”

      If they believe that, then they believe cops arriving at the scene of an active shooter also make the situation worse because the cops also have guns.

      What?

      When is last time you heard of someone complaining the cops were called or were at the scene with guns to stop a mass shooting?

      So I think their problem is who has the guns. I think.

      Maybe they don’t have the capacity or common sense to be able to differentiate between a mass shooter (murderer) and a law-abiding citizen (not a murderer) with a firearm on their person.

      Fact is, cops and CCW holders stop criminals all the time.. If a CCW person “flips out”, they are now defined as a criminal. See how that works? They no longer represent the law abiding gun community. Why is that so hard to figure out?

    • avatarW C says:

      http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/cop_shoots_li_drug_store_robber_oermBX9ZtNSpoWCaMZPiEJ The FIRST shot fired in this case killed an ATF agent. It was NOT from the robber, it was from an armed retired cop, trying to gun down the robber.

      • avatarCommon Sense says:

        First, stopping a robbery is apples to Oranges. Second, you missed my point. I am not saying unintended people might not be hit by a do gooder with a gun. What I was trying to say was, in Aurora, or Sandy Hook, how could it have been worse? There is a big difference, legally and ethically, between an innocent being wounded or killed by somebody trying to stop the shooter during the 20 minutes, yes 20 minutes, it took the police to arrive. In both cases the shooter had effectively unlimited time to rampage unopposed. No magazine restrictions would even have prevented manual loading of a lever action rifle enough times to kill that many children at Sandy Hook for Christ sake. So again, explain how it could have been worse? How could it have been worse than 20 dead six year olds?

  4. avatarOldLawman says:

    Simply put, that is what is called “felony murder”. A death caused by the criminal, who put into play a chain of events. That is one of the reasons a bank robber, whose partner is killed by the police, can be charged with his partner’s death.

  5. avatarFCMatt says:

    rep jim himes -D of course

    Just on c-span saying everyone who wants guns has blood on their hands. Pulled out the BS stats on gun in the house always used for suicide and accidents. Then he starts whining how nobody will listen to him and blames Rick Perry.

    So yesterday we get the brady campaign on the capitol steps parading shooting victims like an AA class and today is ban assault weapons and “Clips” (but we really mean ban all guns) press conferences.

    I’m gonna have to turn off the news or my blood pressure is gonna do bad things.

    • avatarFCMatt says:

      Oh yeah, and for anybody who didn’t watch brady yesterday, Dan Gross laughed after he paraded the victims’ families and joked they didn’t even need to play Ave Maria in the background while they spoke.

      Just disgusting.
      I almost want RF to do a post on this, but I don’t want this cretin getting any more publicity. I’ll leave it up to you guys.

    • avatarRalph says:

      I’m gonna have to turn off the news or my blood pressure is gonna do bad things.

      Wow, FCMatt. Thanks for reminding me to take my BP meds! I forgot them this morning.

  6. avatarsoccerdad says:

    Nice article. So many good quotes to lift from here. Thanks.

  7. avatarDaniel says:

    “An individual may choose to hold their fire, but they are not obligated to, either morally or legally.”

    I demand that a source for this statement be produced.

    • avatarTim McNabb says:

      Daniel sez: “I demand that a source for this statement be produced.”

      And I demand you ask me nicely next time.

      See felony murder. Anyone who is injured or dies as a direct or proximate cause of criminal action is the liability of the criminal.

      I did not think I needed to cite a source, it’s common knowledge among grown ups.

  8. avatarTim says:

    “If an innocent bystander is hurt or killed in the process, our laws recognize that that death is the fault of the criminal, not the person defending their own life. ”

    You would think that this would be true, especially considering that victims of violent crimes think they can sue gun manufacturers. But on the whole I don’t believe the above statement is all accurate. You are assuming that the bystander was at immediate risk from the active shooter.

    What if a self-defense shot in your home aimed at an armed intruder kills your neighbor across the street?

    • avatarTim McNabb says:

      Tim, you can probably manufacture a series of scenarios where a jury would find actions done in self defense reckless and in turn punish that person.

      Under the most likely circumstances, a defender opens fire under lawful conditions (fear of imminent bodily harm) and a bullet somehow strikes someone else. Under those conditions, the person committing a felony is responsible for the death, not the person defending themselves.

  9. avatarMark says:

    “Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”
    Ronald Reagan

  10. avatartjlarson2k says:

    I think I know why the anti’s are so against CCW in general.

    They see all CCW holders (especially those of us that own dreaded “assault rifles”) as ticking timebombs — at any moment we may “flip out” and turn into a spree killer.

    After all, we already own all the tools at our disposal to go on a chart-topping (thanks media for making a popularity contest out of it btw), killing spree. And just because we train, are responsible, and aren’t crazy, that doesn’t guarantee it won’t ever happen in their fear-addled minds.

    I believe that is really the base of their fear. They don’t understand guns, they only understand what the media tells them about guns — that they’re evil and they cause good people to turn into murderers. Of course that’s nonsense.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that they are afraid we might go crazy and that we still have guns. Remember crazy + guns = spree killer.

    Instead of just focusing and being rationally afraid of the active crazy people among us, the mentally depraved and unstable that kill people to get guns, they choose to lump all of us that have firearms into one boat.

    How do you argue against that rationale? This isn’t minority report where we have a PreCrime department….

    And just saying “well, I promise I won’t go crazy” won’t cut it. So what can be done to effectively counter that irrational fear?

    • avatartjlarson2k says:

      One way to counter this argument is breaking down the events into simple formulas:

      Crazy person + Guns = Mall shooting
      Guns + Crazy = School shooting

      Note the order on the school shooting. Yes, the mother had firearms. And her kid was crazy. We already know those two things don’t mix. The mother learned this lesson the hardest way, she died for it.

      Let’s look at two more formulas:

      Guns + Law-abiding citizen = Good things happen, mall spree is stopped, thousands of DGUs, lots of dead criminals and nut jobs.

      Guns = inanimate object = not evil

      Crazy person / Criminal = unstable moral compass = potential for great irrational evil acts

      Law-abiding citizen = stable moral compass = potential for great goodness and sacrifice when a nut job starts killing innocent people and they intervene.

      Cops, military, and CCW holders all fall into the category of law-abiding citizen. If any citizen intentionally harms an innocent, they are a criminal and/or crazy person. There are no two ways about it.

      All the actions anyone commits as a criminal or crazy person have no bearing on their former status as a law-abiding citizen, regardless if they happen to have legally owned firearms. We’ve already established that crazy people or criminals will find ways to arm themselves despite our best intentions.

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