Mother Jones Fumbles Gun Logic. Again.

I support gun rights as a libertarian, but I’m usually not the first to waive around the Second Amendment and caterwaul about the second coming of the American Revolution. Still, I know a lousy argument when I see one, and Mother Jones magazine has a knack for dumping them down my facebook news feed. Here is the latest in its series of unconvincing anti-gun dispatches:

Click to read the article.

Click to read the article.

Here is the eye-roller: 

Among the 62 mass shootings over the past 30 years that we studied, not a single case includes evidence that the killer chose to target a place because it banned guns. To the contrary, in many of the cases there was clearly another motive for the choice of location. For example, 20 were workplace shootings, most of which involved perpetrators who felt wronged by employers and colleagues. Last September, when a troubled man working at a sign manufacturer in Minneapolis was told he would be let go, he pulled out a 9mm Glock and killed six people and injured another before putting a bullet in his own head. Similar tragedies unfolded at a beer distributor in Connecticut in 2010 and at a plastics factory in Kentucky in 2008.

Or consider the 12 school shootings we documented, in which all but one of the killers had personal ties to the school they struck.

Or take the man who opened fire in suburban Milwaukee last August: Are we to believe that a white supremacist targeted the Sikh temple there not because it was filled with members of a religious minority he despised, but because it was a place that didn’t allow firearms?

So mass shooters target places they have connections with and not necessarily places that ban guns? Thank you, Captain Obvious, but I’m actually more interested in knowing whether the probable presence of guns might dissuade a mass-shooter, not whether the absence of guns might attract a mass shooter. Basically, how often do people merely daydream about shooting up their workplaces, but decline to act on those daydreams because the likely presence of guns at the scene makes doing so impractical?

The constant problem with Mother Jones’s reporting about guns is that they report only on what is seen and never on what is unseen. They dig into their database of mass-shootings and pull statistics about about how guns didn’t prevent any of them. Fine. Fair enough. You’ll never see, however, any statistics on the mass shootings that armed civilians prevented. Not only will you never see such statistics in a Mother Jones article, you will also never see such statistics anywhere. Ever. By their nature, one can not collect statistics on mass shootings that never happen. One can never analyze a mass shooting that didn’t happen to figure out exactly why it didn’t happen. There is simply no event to study. If guns played a role in keeping a potential event as a non-event, the world can never know about it.

If a crazy guy opened fire in a bar and killed two people before being gunned down by an armed citizen, that might make the local news, but it probably won’t make national headlines. When gun rights advocates dig deep to find such anecdotes to support their case, Mark Follman at Mother Jones dismisses them on the flimsiest pretense. Consider this passage from Mother Jones’s December article entitled: Do Armed Civilians Stop Mass Shooters? Actually, No.:

Bar shooting in Winnemucca, Nevada
In 2008, a gunman who killed two and wounded two others was taken out by another patron in the bar, who was carrying with a valid permit. But this was no regular Joe with a concealed handgun: The vigilante, who was not charged after authorities determined he’d committed a justifiable homicide, was a US Marine.

Really? That’s it? Gun rights advocates can’t claim that one in support of their argument because the vigilante at issue was a marine? Wherefore? Here’s another from the same article:

High school shooting in Pearl, Mississippi
Another case, from 1997, in which the shooting was apparently already over: After killing two and wounding seven inside Pearl High School, the 16-year-old perpetrator left the building and went outside near the parking lot. The assistant principal—who was also a member of the Army Reserve—ran out to his own vehicle, grabbed a handgun he kept there, and then approached the shooter, subduing him at gunpoint until authorities arrived.

Mark Follman’s argument here is that the mass-shooter had already finished his spree before the armed citizen was able to subdue him; ergo, the gun didn’t actually save anyone from the mass shooter; ergo, guns aren’t useful for defending students from mass shooters. I’ll gladly concede that guns are not useful for defense—when they are left behind in automobiles because they are forbidden from school buildings. But I don’t see how that helps Mark Follman to defend his anti-gun policy proposals from those who believe that guns should not be left behind in automobiles. Perhaps if the assistant principal had is gun on his person, where it would have arguably been of greater use, the killer would have shot only two people rather than nine. Of course, we’ll never know.

Which brings us to the next passage of the present USA Today article:

Suicide factor
Proponents of [the alleged gun-free-school-zones-attract-shooters argument] also ignore that the majority of mass shootings are murder-suicides. Thirty-six of the killers we studied took their own lives at or near the crime scene, while seven others died in police shootouts they had no hope of surviving (aka “suicide by cop”). These were not people whose priority was identifying the safest place to attack.

Again, if the would-be mass shooter does decide against committing suicide by shootout, there is no story. Nobody chalks up a win the pro-gun column because no event occurred to be recorded. But suppose some suicidal maniac disregars his own safety and embarks on a mass shooting that he has no hope of surviving. The main concern for gun rights advocates at this point is whether that shootout occurs before or after the planned massacre. Mark Follman seems to be alarmingly comfortable with having that shootout occur after the massacre, when the police arrive, rather than before the massacre, when armed civilians have a chance to contain it.

I’ll wrap up with one more passage from the Mark Follman USA Today article:

No less a fantasy is the idea that gun-free zones prevent armed civilians from saving the day. Not one of the 62 mass shootings we documented was stopped this way.

Thank you again, Captain Obvious. I’ll concede that those mass shootings became mass shootings because armed civilians were not present to stop them. Police stop mass shootings only after they’ve become mass shootings. When armed civilians stop mass shootings, they become double-homicides that might hit the local news before disappearing down the memory hole. The statistics will never favor the advocates of gun rights. They can’t. That’s just how they work.

I’m not the big-mouth who always chimes in during a period of national mourning to announce his support of unfettered private gun ownership. I do not own a gun. I do not plan to buy a gun in the forseeable future. I’ve just seen my fill of lousy anti-gun arguments from Mother Jones, so I figured I’d write a blog about them. That is all.


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