The latest Federal Bureau of Investigation report on ‘active shooters’ contradicts some of the most popular talking points disseminated by gun-control advocates. Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2016 and 2017 was produced to provide insight to law enforcement agencies, first responders, businesses, educators and the public so that they might better prepare for such occurrences. An examination of the 50 active shooter events covered in this report dispels four of the anti-gun movement’s favorite myths.
Knowing the definitions used by the FBI helps to understand the context of the report. The term ‘active shooter’ – as defined by the Bureau – applies to “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” This should not be confused with the terms ‘mass shooting’ or ‘mass killing.’ The number of people killed or wounded is not relevant to the ‘active shooter’ definition; what matters is the location – a populated area – and the implication that “both law enforcement personnel and citizens have the potential to affect the outcome of the event based upon their responses to the situation.” The FBI defines a ‘mass killing’ as a single incident in which three or more individuals are killed.
Do Stricter Gun Laws Reduce Gun Violence?
The first and most common argument for increased gun control is that stricter gun laws lead to less gun violence. Of the 50 incidents in this report, 10 of them took place in states listed among the ten strictest states for gun laws, according to the Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence. Five active shooter events took place in California which the Law Center rates as the strictest state in the country for gun control. By contrast, only 5 active shooter incidents took place in states listed by the Law Center among the 10 with the least gun control.
Does this prove that more guns result in less gun violence? No, it does not; but it does prove that more – or stricter – gun laws are no guarantee of less gun violence.
The FBI produced a similar report for 2014 and 2015. That report listed 40 incidents. A comparison of the numbers in the two reports are not all that remarkable except for one particular trend. The new report lists 943 total casualties – killed and wounded, excluding the shooters – as opposed to 231 casualties in the previous report. This increase in casualties is not the aforementioned trend, however. The new report includes two of the worst active shooter events in American history; the Las Vegas shooting, which claimed the lives of 58 people, with an additional 489 wounded and the Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida, which resulted in 49 fatalities with 53 wounded.
One more incident added to the dramatic increase in casualties from the previous report; a shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, left 26 people dead and 20 wounded.
Domestic Terrorism and the Targeting of Police
Further comparisons between the new report and the previous one reveal 13 law enforcement fatalities, as opposed to four in 2014 and 2015, plus 20 law enforcement officers wounded, against 10 previously. This jump in law enforcement casualties relates directly to the one noticeable trend; the rise of domestic terrorism. One of the incidents studied was the attempted murder, by a left-wing terrorist, of several Republican congressmen. Four other incidents involved the specific targeting of law enforcement officers. These five events, combined, left 9 law enforcement officers dead and 17 wounded. When government employees and officials are directly targeted, it is fair to class those incidents as domestic terrorism. The attack on the Pulse nightclub was also an act of terrorism.
Many of the other statistics highlighted are similar to the last report; in both, 20 incidents met the ‘mass killing’ definition; 13 shooters committed suicide, as opposed to 16 previously; 18 were apprehended, against 12 apprehensions in 2014 and 2015; 11 were killed by police, as opposed to 14 in the previous report. One particular number was similar in both reports and it is a number that gun-control advocates do not want to acknowledge: In 2014 and 2015, six active shooters were stopped by civilians. In the new report, this number was eight. It should be acknowledged, here, that not all of these civilians were armed at the time. However, armed civilians confronted the shooter in five incidents and, in four of those, brought an end to the incident.
The conclusion of the report stated:
“Armed and unarmed citizens engaged the shooter in 10 incidents. They safely and successfully ended the shootings in eight of those incidents. Their selfless actions likely saved many lives. The enhanced threat posed by active shooters and the swiftness with which active shooter incidents unfold support the importance of preparation by law enforcement officers and citizens alike.”
The Impact of Armed Civilians
The percentage of Americans licensed to carry a concealed weapon varies, depending on the source. There is no study or survey, however, that puts that number at more than around 8%. Yet almost 10% of the active shooter incidents mentioned in the report were brought to an end by armed civilians. Gun control advocates insist that armed civilians do not prevent active shooter incidents. Clearly, the numbers dispel that myth. It is also of interest that many anti-gun rights activists warn that armed civilians, should they become involved in an active shooter scenario, present a danger to innocent bystanders. In the report, not a single bystander was killed or injured by an armed civilian who confronted the active shooter.
The final myth dispelled by the FBI report regards the relative danger to public safety posed by certain weapons. For a while, in the United States, the Kalashnikov rifle – most commonly represented by the AK-47 variant – was used by gun control activists to scare the less well-informed. Today, it has been cast aside in favor of the AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle built by Armalite and not used by the military, despite gun-grabbers labeling it a “weapon of war.”
In the active shooter report, only 22 of the 50 shooters were in possession of a rifle. The report does not specify makes and models of weapons carried – nor does it specify which weapons the shooter actually fired. Shooters were armed with only rifles in just nine incidents; in 22 incidents the shooter used one or more handguns and, in two incidents, one or more shotguns; In the other cases, shooters were armed with a combination of weapons. Only one time in the report is the dubious term “assault rifle” used.
It is clear that semi-automatic rifles are not the ‘weapon of choice’ of most active shooters and, so, the AR-15 poses no greater threat to public safety than any other type of firearm.
The Elephant in the Room
The most obvious conclusion reached by the report, of course – the elephant in the room, one might say – is that active shooters overwhelmingly target locations generally assumed to be free of armed individuals; there were only five cases in which the shooter would have expected to be immediately confronted by someone with a firearm.
The verifiable facts and figures of gun-ownership continue to confound those who wish to disarm the civilian population. Mass killings will never be absolutely prevented by any amount of gun regulation. As just one example, Australia banned firearms not that long ago and yet seven people were recently shot to death in a mass killing in that country. There will always be a few individuals disturbed enough to engage in attempted mass shootings even if they expect to be met with deadly force. Yet, it is still worth asking how many of these 50 tragic incidents might not have taken place – or might have ended with fewer casualties – had the shooters known that they would be immediately confronted by armed civilians?