Thoughts About Mass Murder

My wife and I returned a few days ago from a vacation in England. At one point, we walked across the Westminster Bridge, where earlier this year an Islamic terrorist drove a vehicle into a crowd of pedestrians, killing four and injuring more than 50. Since that attack, barriers have been erected between the roadway and the pedestrian paths across the bridge. They are referred to by some as “diversity bollards.” In addition, perhaps because the Nice terrorist got his truck onto the Promenade inside of whatever barriers existed on the road, there are roadblocks at the ends as well, so that a driver can’t circumvent the bollards.

So pedestrians are safe as they cross the bridge. I took this photo from around the middle of the bridge:

However, if a terrorist were to drive another 15 feet beyond the bridge in either direction, there is nothing to stop him from steering his vehicle into the throngs of pedestrians that are nearly always present. The bridge has been secured, for whatever limited purpose that serves. It is a bit like the fact that we are all required to remove our shoes before boarding an airplane because years ago, Richard Reid concealed explosives in his shoe.

Vehicle attacks are essentially impossible to stop, without major redesign of our cities. Our only real defense is the fact that very few people want to be mass murderers and, most likely, die in the process. We could tie ourselves in knots trying to figure out how to keep vehicles out of the hands of potentially dangerous people, but that would be foolish. Vehicles are everywhere. Often terrorists steal or rent them before committing their atrocities.

These thoughts are prompted by the Sutherland Springs massacre perpetrated by Devin Kelley. Before the bodies were cold, Democrats were demanding new and improved ways of keeping firearms out of the hands of potentially dangerous people. Recent reports suggest that Kelley may have obtained his rifle illegally; that remains to be seen, and I don’t think it is a particularly important point. Firearms, like motor vehicles, are very common. The idea that gun control laws, no matter how numerous or draconian, will consistently keep firearms out of the hands of would-be mass murderers is delusional. That doesn’t mean that we should abandon the NICS system and other regulations, it simply means that we should recognize their limitations.

Moreover, the root cause of murder isn’t firearms or cars. It is evil. Countries where there are vastly fewer firearms than in the U.S. still have homicides, often at rates higher than ours. In England, “knife crime” has long been an obsessive concern, and acid attacks have become common. Personally, I would rather be shot than have my face melted by acid.

So, is there a solution to the problem of mass shootings? No, just as there is no solution to the problem of vehicle attacks. But some things can be done, as illustrated by the Sutherland Springs slaughter. I have two concrete suggestions.

First, more people should carry firearms. Devin Kelley was able to kill dozens and wound many more because he was the only person on the scene who had a gun. If three or four of the parishioners had been armed, in all likelihood his attack would have been less deadly. Similar future attacks might also have been deterred. The response of local citizens who engaged Kelley and ultimately chased him down illustrates the point.

Second, we could train people to respond more effectively to mass shooting incidents. The conventional advice to go to ground is, I think, wrong. One person, no matter how heavily armed, should not be able to shoot 50. If five or ten of the intended victims charge the shooter from various angles, they in all likelihood will be able to knock him down and secure his firearm. This is what happened in 2015 when three Americans, two of them off-duty military, charged and disabled a would-be terrorist on a French train.

The most extreme example of this phenomenon that I can recall (I am going from memory, but you could look it up) was at Virginia Tech, where the lunatic Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people. At one point, I recall that he ordered a half dozen or so young men to line up against a wall, where he shot them. If those men had separated and charged the perpetrator instead of obeying his command, one or two of them may have been shot, but together they could have ended his rampage.

The problem, of course, is that when confronted unexpectedly by a murderer, most people panic and don’t spontaneously organize concerted action. But civil defense-type training could overcome this, at least in part.

There is no ultimate solution to the problem of evil, which has been with us forever. But specifically with regard to mass shooting incidents, there are concrete steps that could be taken to limit their lethality.

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