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Tom McHale writes [via]

What if I told you that all of the mass and school shootings over the past 20 years or so could have been done, to equal effect, by a murderer using a 150-year old lever action rifle? You know, the same kind that was commonly used in the Civil War? Or, what if I told you that the majority of mass shootings could have been done, again to the same effect, with a 170-year old single-shot Sharps-type rifle? That rifle was invented 13 years before the Civil War began. In the collective rush to “fix” the problem of these types of unspeakable crimes . . .

we tend to get collectively stupid by grasping at straws in a desperate race for a solution. You know exactly what I am talking about. When something bad happens, there’s an immediate call to ban something. So-called “high-capacity” magazines are almost always blamed for tragic results of mass shootings.

The thinking goes that if you reduce magazine capacity, then vicious and heartless murderers wouldn’t be able to hurt and kill as many people. You’ve probably heard all the quotes in the news like this one:

“If only we didn’t have these high-capacity magazines on the market, the shooter would never have been able to inflict that level of harm…”

To the uninformed and intellectually lazy, these types of statements sound perfectly rational. When challenged with the fallacy of their logic, you might hear those same folks shift gears and offer up statements like, “Well, of course, it won’t completely prevent another mass murder, but it will probably help.”

I get it. It’s hard to admit the existence of true evil and even harder to try to solve the root problems that cause humans to do unspeakable things. As a result, we cry for quick and easy solutions that feel good.

I recently sat in what was perhaps the most enlightening presentation I’ve seen in decades. At the recent United States Concealed Carry Association Expo, Chief USCCA Instructor Michael Martin presented a veritable mountain of data that he had painstakingly compiled about mass shootings.

Deciding to look at actual facts as a basis for formulating meaningful, realistic, and effective response strategies, he evaluated what actually happened during mass shooting events.

Were magazines a factor? What about police response time? Did it make a difference when unarmed people fought back against the killer? How about security, like simple door locks? Did simple and inexpensive deterrents like that make any difference?

The results of Martin’s data compilation are nothing short of stunning. I don’t have the space to go through all of the angles here, so I’ll stick with the magazine capacity angle as an example of the study.

Since the perception of the uninformed is that magazine capacity allows an increased rate of fire, and therefore more killing in less time, Martin took a close look at that factor in dozens of shootings.

Here are the actual rates of fire based on the number of minutes the murderer had compared to the number of shots fired. I’m naming the locations only as I refuse to print the names of the despicable slime that perpetrate these heinous crimes.

All numbers reflect rounds per minute fired.

Virginia Tech: 15
Newtown: 15 – 31
Columbine: 4
Red Lake: 5
Oikos University: 6
Northern Illinois University: 8
San Bernardino: 7 – 14
Fort Hood: 21
Binghampton: 25
Aurora: 8 – 14

Next, Martin considered realistic rates of fire, performed by a relatively inexperienced shooter, as nearly all of these psychos are. With 30-round magazines, a sustained rate of fire is about 100 rounds per minute. Using a 10-round magazine, the sustained rate is about 75 rounds per minute. As you can see, not one of the actual events came anywhere close to these rates.

In fact, that lever-action rifle we mentioned earlier has a sustained rate of fire of 30 rounds per minute. And that antique single-shot Sharps has a sustained rate of between 10 and 12 rounds per minute.

The point of all this? If people (meaning the uninformed and intellectually lazy) would stop to think for a minute before launching into half-cocked solutions, we might invest more problem-solving time in strategies that actually work. This is the real point of Martin’s research.

By looking at the details of what actually happened in all these cases, we have a much better basis of understanding from which to do meaningful and effective things to dramatically reduce the number of these horrific events.

Consider some other data points from Martin’s research:

The real factor that drives casualty count is the time before the shooter is opposed – by someone else with a gun. Looking at all the events over the past couple of decades, the killers have an average of nine minutes of completely unopposed time to do whatever they want. Considering that over 70% of school killers end their spree by committing suicide, it’s clear that time is all they seek.

There’s no escape plan. There’s not even a big hurry. Nine minutes of complete and total domination is an eternity. In fact, according to Martin’s research, it usually takes two minutes before a 911 call is placed. That alone is an eternity.

Then it takes minutes for the police to arrive. Then it takes more minutes for responders to formulate and execute a response plan. The killer actually knows, not thinks or believes, but knows, that they have another four minutes after they hear the sirens coming. The result of all that is nine minutes of pure hell for the victims.

If nine minutes doesn’t seem like a long time to you, try sitting still and waiting to be shot while slowly counting to 540. Image: USCCA.

If nine minutes doesn’t seem like a long time to you, try sitting still and waiting to be shot while slowly counting to 540. Image: USCCA.

How about disruption and fighting back? If time is the number one determinant of casualties, then anything that even temporarily disrupts the ticking clock or plan must have a positive effect, right? As it turns out, that’s true.

At Virginia Tech, students and professors in two of the five classrooms mounted resistance by trying to block the door. In these two rooms, a professor and one student were killed. In the three other rooms, 27 were killed and eight wounded.

When the killer’s plan was disrupted in such as way as to cost him time, he moved on. At La Toscana Village Mall, New Life Church, Appalachian School of Law, and Thurston High School, potential victims fought back, ending the killer’s rampages.

How about background checks? As it turns out, this is no easy fix either. Of the cases Martin studied, 79% of mass murderers bought their firearms from an FFL and completed a background check. 13 percent stole guns and six percent acquired them through illegal means.

Oh, none was acquired via private sale or “gun show loophole” as some like to call it. Did you catch that? Not one killer got their gun through a private sale. Stated differently, universal background checks would not have stopped a single one of the 47 mass shootings since 1998.

So what to do? Based on his learnings, Martin recommends a four-part plan. Be aware that we’re just skimming the surface here, Martin’s plan has hundreds of detailed action items. The USCCA is contemplating how to best disseminate this information, but for now, here are the high points.

1. Hardening schools

If you stop to think about it, a Motel 6 guest room is far more secure than the average classroom. While Martin’s recommendations go far beyond locks and sturdy doors, a simple swing bar lock goes a shockingly long way towards disrupting an attacker.

If you want to see some ideas in action, check out the leading edge security system installed at Southwestern High School in Indiana. Total cost? About $400,000, or less than 10% the cost of the average High School football field.

2. Teaching students and staff to fight back

Most of us have understood the wisdom of run, hide and fight for a long time. Finally, even the Department of Homeland Security is admitting the stupidity of telling victims to sit still and hope for the best.

3. Creating an armed educator program

We’ve got an armed pilot program, how hard can it be to create a similar program for teachers motivated to take and maintain training? ( A good example is Buckeye Firearms Association Armed Teacher Training Program )

4. Eliminating schools from the “gun free zone” list

Do I need to comment on this? We’ve painted big targets on schools for far too long at the expense of far too many lives. It could not be more obvious that deranged killers actively seek these zones to maximize the impact of their nine minutes of fame.

So what can you as an individual do? It’s simple really. The solution to these problems is education. We need to educate the educators, the media, the politicians, and our friends and neighbors. If you want to get wired into a source of outstanding information, consider becoming a USCCA Certified Instructor.

It’s time to start calling BS on all the feel good and politically expedient “solutions.”


Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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    • you assumption that liberals have brains to wrap around things is tenuous at best.

      Assuming they do, facts, logical thought processes and conditioned behavior responses to predictable patterns AKA “common sense” are so far behind emotions and hysteria on the bus its racist.

      • I’m a pro-2nd Amendment moderate/liberal and wrapped my head around the BS of these “feel good” attempts at gun control long ago. Its stupid to think these minor changes would do anything to stop attacks. A cheap 12 gauge single shot shotgun could be equally as devastating given the rates of fire quoted above.

  1. Can a Liberal count that low?? If the numbers aren’t big enough, how can a Liberal lie as big??
    “Common Sense” tells a reasonable person that a lever action can be as fast as a semi auto. Given 9 minutes to do your thing. Ive emptied my Marlin as fast as my AR given the same capacity. Reloading a lever is a tad slower but if you have time. What difference does it make??

    • And don’t forget to reject artificial constraints:
      (1) Nothing prevents an attacker from bringing two or even three lever-action rifles to the foray — increasing their overall capacity.
      (2) Nothing prevents an attacker from loading heavy-for-caliber, hardcast lead bullets in their lever-action rifles — enabling each bullet to easily kill anywhere from three average teenagers to six or more tiny first grade children.
      (3) Nothing prevents an attacker from bringing four revolvers to the foray, increasing their capacity to 24 shots before having to reload.
      (4) And nothing prevents the attacker from choosing to acquire revolvers chambered in .44 Magnum … and loaded with heavy-for-caliber hardcast lead bullets where each bullet can kill as many as three or four tiny children in first grade.
      (5) Finally, nothing prevents an attacker from “mixing and matching” the above options, such as carrying two revolvers chambered in .44 Magnum (one on each hip) and two lever-action rifles … all loaded with the deadliest, heavy-for-caliber bullets available.

  2. Although all of your points are well taken, it’s really even easier than that. About all that’s needed is to simply legally repeal this “gun-free” zone bullshit and allow concealed carry, just like any other public place. Preferably constitutionally, that is, no permit needed, etc. That’s it. No more, no less. Because there are two kinds of people in this world – those who understand and admit reality, and those that bury their heads in the sand like an ostrich with a sign hung up on their asses saying “KICK ME.”

    Here endeth the lesson.


    • It would seem that a large part of the reasoning for the Second Amendment was to ensure that criminals and tyrants (same thing) always understood that all of America was a gun zone, not a Gun Free Zone.

      The risk to students and anyone else in a school zone of any person carrying a self-defense firearm would be minimal since any bad guy intent on criminal acts up to and including homicide would have to factor in the probability, perhaps the likelihood, that he would be immediately opposed by at least one other person willing and able to return fire. At the very least this would cause the bad guys to re-assess what they might consider a soft target.

  3. my local collage sent an email about active shooter situations and I agree with their statements. Fist they advocate escape if possible, hiding and barricading a room and fighting for your life if you make contact with the shooter. Even saying you cant hold back use anything as a weapon book,desk, chair, fire extinguisher and you might be killed but your actions can help save others lives.

    • Maybe I’m just being hopeful, but did they happen to mention carrying a weapon of your own choosing?

      Otherwise the plan is half assed, at best.

    • That’s better than “shelter in place,” but I think that their order of operations is out of whack. They should be reversed, starting with consideration that the attacker is in close proximity. Priming people to consider running and hiding first could be their demise. If the attacker begins his/her spree right next to you, running and hiding will do sweet F-All for the situation. If everyone nearby runs, the attacker will have free reign for the next 9 minutes.

      Dying in an adrenaline-fueled fight would be a lot better than being executed when the attacker finds your hidey-hole and the only things left of your adrenaline rush are limp limbs and the regret of inaction. Fighting has the added bonus of possible victory. Maybe that’s just my opinion, though…

  4. “If nine minutes doesn’t seem like a long time to you, try sitting still and waiting to be shot while slowly counting to 540. Image: USCCA.

    If nine minutes doesn’t seem like a long time to you, try sitting still and waiting to be shot while slowly counting to 540. Image: USCCA.”

    Seem to have a duplicate line with no image…

  5. It seems that given the overwhelming advantages of a planned, prepared, armed attack surprising unarmed targets, the arms used don’t much matter to the results. Good to know. In contrast, the gun’s configuration matters to GGs’ outcomes, because the GGs are shooting *back.*

    Pro-gun folks argue so hard to have any feature they want on their guns because(*) defending yourself against a bad guy at need is completely different from voluntarily bullet-hosing defenseless innocents, for god, for fun, as a cost of doing business, or to share the pain. Reasonable, peaceful gun users never have the advantages of planning, preparation, surprise and armed vs. disarmed.

    Fortunately, it doesn’t much matter how much firepower and precision GGs carry, because along with not shooting at innocents to make a point in the first place, the GGs will stop shooting as soon as the other guy does.

    From this data it seems like the best way to reduce damage from mass shootings would be to provision every soft target with the most sophisticated, effective arms we can. Or just the opposite of what the “For the children!” folks keep pushing for. It’s almost like they want mass shootings to keep happening, every time some whack-job wants.

    (*) Yes, there are at least 12 other reasons for wanting any feature you like, and especially objecting to regulation on this feature or that.

  6. All wise suggestions. And because they are all wise suggestions, they will never be adopted. And the group that will fight hardest against these wise suggestions will be the school administrators and teachers.

    Just leftists being leftists I guess.

  7. Wife is a teacher and they have been taught to gather the children and huddle in a large mass in the middle of the classroom near the wall on the other side of the hall.
    This is why Lanza’s gun fire was so deadly.
    All he had to do was shoot at the mass of kids and he was bound to hit a few with one shot.
    Just ridiculous.

    • Yeah, putting everyone in a single mass and having them stand still is the absolute worst advice anyone could possibly offer. Such advice increases the effectiveness of simple/old firearm technology. (See my comment above noting how heavy-for-caliber bullets, especially hardcast lead bullets, are capable of killing between three and six children with each bullet when said children are sitting still in a large mass.)

        • I have long since noted that with all the time the cops gave give him to play around in, Lanza could have wreaked similar damage using a brace of black-powder pistols and clubbing people to death with them after he fired his initial rounds.

  8. There’s a flaw in the reasoning here. If a shooter is firing 30 rounds, over a three minute period, that doesn’t mean he’s firing an even ten rounds per minute. It’s far more likely to be two or three quick bursts of several rounds, separated by long breaks in the firing as he searches for new victims.

    A more appropriate study would be: how many rounds did the murderers fire in those bursts of activity? If a guy is firing under ten shots, moving, then firing under ten shots, etc. Then a ten round magazine limit doesn’t really hinder him much.

    But I generally oppose this sort of reasoning. If you say that we shouldn’t ban standard capacity magazines because it wouldn’t have hindered any mass shooters, then that implies that something that might have hindered a mass shooter is okay (e.g. eliminating the NICS three-day timeout).

  9. Regrettably you just proved the Aussie gun grabbers’ theory that lever action rifles from 100 years ago are too dangerous and therefore must be confiscated. Maybe single shot rifles as well.

  10. One of my favorite anti defenses is this: But what kind of training does a CCW holder have against a depraved murderer?
    Last I checked the level of training in most cases of active shooters is pretty low. Having free and unfettered access to multiple targets in a confined area allows them to achieve maximum damage.

  11. This is cognitive dissonance

    How can a side argue mag limits are unsafe, that a person should carry the highest capacity possible, that 15 or 30 round is better for self defense, and then argue that all those things become irrelevant in the magical hands of a mass shooter

    That the shooter would be able to quickly and under duress jam a bunch of .357 rounds into a tubular magazine ? That that gives no more opportunity to attack him than swapping mags would?

    It’s just not a good argument since it is untrue.

    It is doubly bad if it supports the point that all anybody needs is a revolver or single shot

    • “How can a side argue mag limits are unsafe, that a person should carry the highest capacity possible, that 15 or 30 round is better for self defense, and then argue that all those things become irrelevant in the magical hands of a mass shooter”

      There are two different situations at hand here- call them “mission profiles,” if you will. Capacity and speed are not particular advantages when the potential targets are unarmed, or so sayeth this study. Ergo, a lever action can be as lethal as an AR when used by a psychotic with a room full of children, because said shooter doesn’t have to defend themselves and can select targets slowly and at will. However, capacity and speed are both incredible advantages when engaging a dangerous, armed opponent, which is why modern rifles are effective at defensive operations.

  12. Just me, but it seems the data on rates-of-fire supports banning lever action and rolling block guns. The heart of gun grabbing is the argument that if law abiding citizens cannot have access to guns, it will be tougher for those citizens to go crazy and get guns to kill so many people. Law abiding citizens are unlikely to go looking for illegal guns, so we don’t need to be concerned with gangs, criminals, black market. The data given here seems to underline that the mass shooters did not trick the background check system, did not buy illegal guns. Actually arguing that background checks don’t do any good gives gun grabbers more support; the only alternative to more checks is confiscation. This is all trickier than we want to admit.

  13. Meanwhile, we focus on the guns and ignore the fact that every mass shooting is a product of the diversity, immigration, and media-caused breakdown of social and ethnic cohesion. That diversity breeds alienation and discontent. That low standards and forced integration of disparate peoples produces tension and envy that ends in violence and disintegration.

    The more the govt recklessly and treasonously floods the country with unassimilable immigrants to meet some hidden objective; the more the media defames and promotes anger toward the majority; the more that secretive elites fuel minority violence against whites to marginalize them and keep distracted while they consolidate power; then the more cowards will rush to school to kill someone who looks like the disparaged group on their favorite TV show or movie.

  14. Fantastic piece, it’s great to see this level of specificity and well researched truth emerge from research, here in California, soon there will be a research center that is backed and staffed with anti 2A “people” who will also research new strategies, excuse me, (BARF) “common sense” strategies to eliminate, sorry, marginally impact the likelihood of another mass shooting here, by finding new ways, innovative ways to further eliminate and ultimately remove Californians right to keep and bear arms.
    There is some sarcasm in there but truly, a great article, and thank you to Tom McHale, and TTAG for featuring his work.

  15. Disingenuous argument. You damn well know an AR/AK type rifle is more effective for indiscriminate killing than a single shot rifle. And saying otherwise makes you just as bad as the left. Making up “facts” that support your argument. Just b/c that was their rate of avg rate of fire doesn’t mean they weren’t running around to different rooms, etc in the meantime. And not just standing there putting single bullet after bullet in the chamber and firing.

    • Well duh, an AR15 would be more effective in killing as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. That’s not the point. The point is, in all of the 48 mass shootings since 1998, there is no evidence that even a single death was the result of the potential increased rate of fire of a semi automatic weapon or a high capacity magazine. An attacker armed with a weapon has nine minutes to do whatever he wants, without fear of resistance. He could walk into a school with a crossbow and easily kill a dozen people before being stopped.

  16. I want to agree, except the rate of fire for single-shot weapons is pretty low. It’s one thing to shoot in a simulation, and entirely another to shoot under stress.

    The larger point is that even if murderous A-holes use ARs, 30 round mags, etc. that we still should not ban those things from responsible people. Corvettes, motorcycles, cell phones and alcohol are used irresponsibly and we shouldn’t ban those either. History is clear such bans are an exercise in futility. The answer is not in punishing good people but criminals. Of course teaching personal responsibility, work ethic, and good role models are also essential.

  17. I seem to forget. How many mass shootings have happened to home schoolers? Banning public schools is where we should start!

  18. An armed educator program has issues. The majority of teachers don’t like guns. Security of guns in a school environment is an issue.
    The nation has some 130,000 schools of all types. They are open some 180 days a year. While there is a lot of noise about school shootings they are a very rare event.
    While schools could be hardened to make shootings much more difficult, it unlikely that they will invest the money.
    Most likely schools won’t do much.

  19. “I refuse to print the names of the despicable slime that perpetrate these heinous crimes.”

    Thanks for that, RF.

  20. Sorry, but rate of fire argument is flawed.

    A criminal armed with hi-capacity semi-auto can, by definition, pour a lot of bullets into a group of people, chase and kill or injure fleeing person with ease, etc. Law-abiding citizen will use M&P, not some single-shot pistol, for self-defence. A criminal uses such weapon for same tactical reasons.

    “Average rate of fire” takes into account time required for criminal to navigate the building, find people, negotiate obstacles, etc. It completely neglects actual application of gunfire.

    I fully agree with general premise of the article, but antis do not deserve freebies.

  21. None of this matters in any way. True or not. The anti’s don’t care about facts or logic. They care about feelings. Banning scary black rifles makes them feel better and there is no logic to fix that.

  22. So there is a substantial pool of evidence and documentation of violent outburst of children on ADD/ADHD medications yet guns are evil and to be blamed. That’s what we have learned about school shootings.

  23. Just a little bit of historical fact checking. The lever action rifle was extremely rare in the Civil War, ~3,800 were purchased in total, and only 14k were manufactured in total during the decade of the civil war. Plus the ammunition of the day was quite terrible.

    Plus, the ability to rapid fire, and more importantly rapidly reload, raises the probability that targets of opportunity will be available simultaneously with ammunition availability. Reloading, both the time it takes to reload the magazine, as well as just cycle the action is exponentially faster. With almost zero training you can fire an AR, or any pistol @ 60 rpm, assuming its not a pocket 380 or other locap weapon, and even in that is a fast reloading time if you’ve got 20 magazines.

    The important change over the last hundred years isn’t semi automatic, its box fed magazines. 95% of your reloading time is done before you walk out the door, so you ability to aim is less important since you can carry so many more ready rounds, with the action is bolt, pump, cylinder, etc.

    The reality is that 15/30 round mags are common, tens of millions of them, so restricting the ability of a common person isn’t a good option. We’re normally going to be outgunned by a nutbag who’s planning something, so we have to offset that with training and practice. Whether they’re a terrorist of whatever ilk, or mental case, if they’ve decided to go to war, but you’ve decided to go to Kroger’s, its always going to lean their way 1v1.

    Another apt analogy is a spree killer with a sword, that’s thousands of years old tech, and just last year in China a nutter hacked up 30+ people before the police shot him. Very low reload time on a sword, but its probably fatiguing to hack up that many people, probably need an ice pack or something. Better outlaw steak knives and long sticks.

    • Thanks for pointing out the facts about lever action rifles and the Civil War. I’m surprised it took as long as it did for someone to mention this…


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