Courtesy of Occupy Democrats, with over 12,000 likes and 18,000 shares. This meme claims that zero mass shootings were stopped by armed civilians in the last 30 years. By any reasonable measure this is false.
The “Catch 22”
When dealing with a claim of stopping a mass shooting, there’s a “Catch 22” problem. If someone shoots a potential mass shooter before they begin, technically a mass shooting never took place and one can’t definitively claim it was prevented. On the other hand, if a mass shooting is underway and then stopped by an armed civilian, technically the mass shooting wasn’t prevented either, as it already happened. This “Catch 22” makes it technically impossible to stop a mass shooting. Thus, this meme could be considered correct under this twisted logic, but would be grossly and maliciously misleading and not what any fair person would consider to be true.
Another factor is to consider what is meant by “armed civilian”. One could argue that an off-duty police officer or military personnel carrying a weapon isn’t a civilian, but this seems disingenuous.
Reasonable Measure of Prevented Mass Shootings
A reasonable analysis of mass shootings that were prevented by civilians with weapons would include events where a mass shooting (defined as 4 or more victims being shot) was either underway or very likely to begin, and was stopped by someone with a gun not operating in an official capacity as law enforcement. The following list reflects this criteria.
1. November 2017– A man started firing in a parking lot of a crowded auto repair shop in Rockledge, FL killing one and paralyzing another. Two of the employees had concealed carry permits and fought back, shooting and injuring the attacker and preventing any more damage.
2. November 2017– An off-duty Kansas City police captain shot an armed man in a local Costco when he announced “I’m an off-duty U.S. Marshal, I’m here to kill people”. The off-duty cop told him to drop the gun and not to move. When the gunman aimed his pistol at the officer, he shot him. No other injuries were reported.
3. September 2017– A masked man entered a Nashville church and shot 7 people, killing one. A church usher was able to run to his car, grab a handgun and confront the shooter, saving untold lives.
4. May 2017– A man entered a bar in Arlington, TX yelling incoherently and began shooting, killing one. A customer with a concealed carry handgun engaged the shooter and prevented further injuries or deaths. There were more than a dozen customers in the bar, plus employees.
5. June 2016– A man began shooting outside a bar in Lyman, South Carolina. He shot 3 people before a fourth with a concealed weapons permit fired back, preventing more bloodshed.
6. July 2015– A Cincinnati man fired at 4 people, including a 1-year-old boy. One of the victims had a concealed weapons permit and shot back, hitting the attacker in the leg. No one died.
7. May 2015– In New Holland, SC a man pulled into a crowded fire department parking lot filled with children and firefighters and began firing into the air and pointing the gun at people. Two firefighters with concealed carry permits confronted the shooter and got him to put down his weapon. While no one was injured, this likely prevented a mass shooting.
8. April 2015– An Uber Driver with a concealed carry permit shot and injured a man firing a pistol into a group of people on a Logan Square sidewalk in Chicago.
9. March 2015– Police say a man likely saved the lives of several people when he shot and killed a gunman inside a West Philadelphia barbershop. During an argument, the man pulled out a gun and began shooting customers and barbers, there were even kids inside. Another man who had a legal weapons permit heard the shots from outside, rushed in and killed the shooter, likely saving lives.
10. July 2014– A psychiatric patient opened fire at a Pennsylvania hospital, killing one case worker. A doctor with a concealed weapons permit fired back and hit the shooter three times, allowing hospital personnel to tackle and subdue him. The police chief said “without a doubt, I believe the doctor saved lives. Without that firearm, [the shooter] could have went out in the hallway and just walked down the offices until he ran out of ammunition,”
11. July 2014– A military service member with a concealed carry permit shot and injured a man who fired at and threatened a group of four people outside a party in Chicago.
12. January 2014– After being turned away from a Portland strip club, a man returned with a gun and shot and critically injured the bouncer and proceeded to enter the club. Another bouncer with a concealed carry permit shot the attacker. There were 30 people inside.
13. December 2012– A man with a stolen AR-15 rifle entered the Clackamas Mall in Oregon and began shooting, killing 2 and critically injuring a third. Another man with a concealed carry permit confronted the shooter but didn’t fire because he feared he might shoot innocent bystanders. However, he claims the shooter saw him and this likely stopped the shooting spree, as he then ran into a stairwell and the next bullet the gunman fired was to kill himself. It’s debatable whether this mass shooting was stopped by this action, but there is evidence to support it.
14. April 2012– A man chased and shot at multiple church members in a church parking lot in Aurora, CO, killing one. An off-duty police officer happened to be there and shot the gunman, stopping the attack.
15. March 2012– A man kicked in and entered a side door in a Spartanburg, SC church with a shotgun and pointed it at the pastor and congregation. Another church member, a concealed weapon holder, acted quickly to subdue the attacker. No one was injured.
16. May 2009– During a birthday party two masked gunmen broke into an apartment in College Park, GA filled with 11 people. They separated the men from women, stole their wallets and cell phones, then proceeded to attempt to rape the women, mentioning they would kill them afterwards. One of the victims managed to grab his bag with a gun in it, then shot and chased off the attackers. The resident of the apartment said if not for the intervention, all the party goers would likely have been killed.
17. May 2008– A man entered a crowded bar near Reno, NV and fatally shot two brothers, as well as injuring others. When stopping to reload, another patron with a concealed weapons permit shot and killed him.
18. December 2007– After killing two at one Colorado church, a gunman drove to the New Life Church in Colorado Springs and began shooting members leaving a Sunday service. As the gunman entered the church, a woman stepped out from a doorway, confronted the gunman and then fired 10 shots from 63 feet away, hitting the attacker once in the wrist and twice in a leg. He died in the hallway, barely 40 feet from where he entered.
19. February 2007– A man with a shotgun and backpack full of ammunition opened fire at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City, killing 5 and wounding 4. The shooter was quickly and soundly stopped by the Salt Lake City SWAT, but not before an off-duty police officer with a gun had cornered him and engaged in a gun battle, preventing untold deaths to others.
20. January 2002– A distressed student facing suspension entered the campus of Appalachian School of Law and killed three people, including the dean, and injured three others. He was stopped and wrestled to the ground by three students who were trained police officers. One of which ran to his car to get his service pistol before confronting the attacker.
21. July 1999– After a man rented a semi-automatic rifle at a gun club, he held three employees hostage and threatened to kill them. One had a concealed handgun and shot the gunman. While he only directly threatened three people (not technically a mass shooting), his suicide note detailed his desire to take many other lives, so this likely prevented that.
22. April 1998– A middle school student took his father’s handgun and went to his middle school dance. He shot and killed one teacher and wounded 3 others. The owner of the dance hall grabbed his shotgun after hearing the shots and confronted and disarmed the shooter outside. It’s debatable whether or not this prevented any more deaths, as the student had stopped shooting, but he was still armed and capable to shoot more people.
23. October 1997– The Pearl High School shooting in Mississippi, which killed 2 and injured 7, was stopped by the assistant principal who got a pistol he kept in his truck to subdue the shooter.
24. December 1991– Two armed men herded 20 customers and employees of a Shoney’s restaurant in Anniston, Ala., into the walk-in refrigerator and locked it. Continuing to hold the manager at gunpoint, the men began robbing the restaurant. They were stopped by another customer, legally armed with a .45 semi-automatic pistol, who was hiding under a table. He fired five shots into that robber’s chest and abdomen, killing him instantly. It’s debatable if this would have been a mass shooting, but it was a hostage situation endangering at least 20 lives.
While the “Catch 22” still applies to all of these examples, clearly it’s not true by any reasonable understanding that an armed civilian hasn’t prevented or greatly diminished deaths in mass shootings during the previous 30 years.