Like a sniper in a war zone, Stephen Paddock found a defensible position 400 yards from his target, and set to waging his little war on the Route 91 Harvest music fest in the early morning hours of October 1. From the killing fields of the darkened concert ground it was impossible to see or hear where the hail of bullets was coming from. After firing thousands of rounds into the crowd over approximately ten minutes, Stephen Paddock’s gun fell silent. Minutes later, a final shot rang out as Paddock ended his life. Law enforcement breached his room with explosives almost an hour later. As of this writing, 58 are dead and 489 are injured in the most deadly mass shooting event in modern US history.
Several weeks earlier and a thousand miles away, at Freeman High School near Spokane, Washington, Caleb Sharpe, fifteen, arrived at school with multiple weapons. After murdering a student who confronted him and injuring two others, he was set up to continue a rampage on the scale of Columbine or even Sandy Hook. But a custodian at the school, Joe Bowen, confronted Sharpe as he reloaded his weapon, ordered him to the ground, and held him down until law enforcement arrived.
The Freeman shooting (which was mentioned on the podcast a few weeks ago) made national news because of the heroic actions of the two people who confronted Sharpe. Imagine the courage it takes to confront a shooter. And not one but two people did so. The first died, the second was able to disarm the shooter.
If only someone had been there to stand up to Stephen Paddock. But the Las Vegas shooter was armed and dangerous and behind locked doors. Nobody knows what was going through his mind in that darkened room. We know he wasn’t targeting a specific person–the bump stocks he used to turn his semi-automatic weapons into quasi-machine guns make accuracy impossible. We only know that he wanted to kill.
Every time this happens, we want to know how to stop it from happening again. The United States has more guns, and more mass shootings, than any other large, rich country. It’s not just hand-wringing liberals who talk about an epidemic of gun violence in America. The statistics are hard to argue with:
- The firearm homicide rate in the United States is six times higher than it is in Canada–sixteen times higher than Germany.
- States with more guns have more murders. States with fewer guns have fewer murders. Countries with more guns have more murders; countries with fewer guns have fewer murders (compare Germany with Canada).
- A 1% increase in gun ownership is correlated with a .9% increase in the rate of homicide by firearm (see end of post for disclaimer on this data)
- For every time a gun is used for self defense in the home, there are seven assaults (fatal and non-fatal), eleven suicide attempts, and four gun-related accidents (fatal and non-fatal).
Some will quibble with the facts here. Others will say swallow them without batting an eye and say it’s the price of freedom. But for those of us who accept these things and want to change them, it’s not that simple. The right to keep and bear arms is protected by the American constitution. If we start weakening the protections of the 2nd Amendment, a weakened 1st amendment might be next.
On the ground, any measures we take to stop the carnage of gun violence in America, such as banning the trick gun stocks the Vegas shooter used, are pathetic half measures. The real problem–and I’ll stop saying this when it stops being true–is at the heart. In countries like Japan and the UK, where guns are rare, people murder with knives. I am in favor of protecting our children from gun violence with legislation, but we need to accept the limits. We’re not going to legislate away the murderous hearts of the enemies of God.
Joe Bowen, the custodian at Freeman High School, can show us a way forward. Though unarmed, he confronted the shooter and disarmed him. He was ready to take a bullet for the kids in that school, and his courage may be the noblest and most Christ-like response to this that we’re likely to find.
Regarding the correlation between gun ownership and gun homicide, this is what the study authors have to say about the potential that these numbers are skewed:
“A reverse causal association was also possible. For example, increases in firearm homicide rates could have led to efforts by state residents to acquire guns, thus increasing gun ownership levels. We addressed this question with a lagged variable and found that gun ownership, lagged by either 1 or 2 years, was still a significant predictor of firearm homicide rates. This is consistent with, but does not prove, the hypothesis that changes in gun ownership rates affect subsequent firearm homicide rates.”