George Hennard crashed his pickup truck through the window of the Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas. He then started shooting people. Suzanna Gratia Hupp reached for the pistol in her purse. The gunman stood only 10 feet away, and she had a clear shot.
Suzanna Gratia Hupp testifying before Congress, 2013.
In horror, Hupp realized she had left the pistol in her glove compartment – only a hundred feet away, but it might as well have been a hundred miles. A friend, concerned about her safety, had given Hupp the gun for self-defense. She trained and knew how to use it. Yet only two months earlier, Hupp decided to stop carrying concealed. It was a felony in Texas back in 1991. She worried she might lose her chiropractic license if caught.
Hupp managed to escape, but the gunman went on to kill both of her parents. A total of 24 lay dead, including Hennard from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
Hupp battled tirelessly across the nation for gun rights. Texas passed a concealed carry law in 1995. Hupp became a Texas state legislator in 1996, winning five straight terms in office.
(Suzanna Gratia Hupp testifies to Congress in support of gun rights. “I’m mad at my legislators for legislating me out of a right to protect myself and my family. I would much rather be sitting in jail with a felony offense on my head and have my parents still alive.”)
Officials in may-issue states, including California and New York, typically grant permits only to the wealthy and politically connected.
Hupp’s activism accelerated an already existing trend for states to liberalize their concealed carry laws. 15 states prohibited concealed carry outright in 1986. Vermont allowed anyone legally qualified to own a gun to carry concealed without a permit, and eight other states had a “shall issue” law. Shall-issue states must grant concealed carry permits to any resident who meets the legal requirements. The other 26 states allowed authorities to issue permits at their discretion.
By 2011, Alaska and Arizona had joined Vermont in allowing permit-free concealed carry. Only two states prohibited concealed carry entirely. Shall-issue states increased to 37. May-issue states declined to eight.
(Senator Diane Feinstein (D) reveals in 1995 that she wanted a complete ban and confiscation of all privately-owned guns but, lacking the votes, settled instead on more limited restrictions on so-called assault weapons. A multi-millionaire surrounded by armed security, many gun owners and Second Amendment advocates view Feinstein as the ultimate hypocrite. “When I walked to the hospital when my husband was sick, I carried a concealed weapon,” she said. “I made the determination that if somebody was going to try to take me out I was going to take them with me.” Few are granted the luxury of a carry permit in gun-restrictive San Francisco, the senator’s home city.)
It’s not surprising. Americans’ support for gun rights has increased dramatically over the past few decades. 51 percent of respondents to a 2000 Gallup poll said the presence of a gun made a home less safe. Only 35 percent said a home-defense gun increases safety. By 2014, the results had reversed. 60 percent felt safer with a gun, 30 percent less safe.
A 2015 Pew survey found 54 percent of African-Americans view gun ownership favorably, up from 29 percent just two years before. Police Chief James Craig supports the trend. A black lawman in charge of a mostly black city, Craig feels attitudes are simply catching up with white America. “It was a well-known fact here in Detroit,” he says. “People didn’t have a lot of confidence that when they dialed 911, that the police were going to show up. In fact, we know they didn’t.”
(District of Columbia officials scramble to deny concealed carry to as many residents as possible in the wake of a May, 2016 federal court’s ruling. A judge struck down the requirement for applicants to prove “good reason” as a violation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. The Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision set the legal precedent, overturning the district’s handgun ban and restrictions that prevented the use of long guns for home defense.)
The original Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution, in the National Archives. The Second Amendment reads: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
According to a June, 2016 Gallup poll, 64 percent of Americans think further liberalizing concealed carry laws would reduce mass shootings. The poll was taken just a few days after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. 50 died, including the gunman.
But do armed citizens ever really stop mass shootings? Mathew Murray shot four people dead in a Colorado Springs church in 2007. Church member and volunteer security guard Jeanne Assam shot and wounded Murray. He then killed himself. Murray had brought more than a thousand rounds of ammunition into the church. An Uber driver with a carry permit shot and wounded Everardo Custodio in 2015, after he opened fire on a crowd in Chicago. Nobody was killed. Richard Plotts shot and killed his psychiatric caseworker in 2014 and wounded his psychiatrist, Lee Silverman, just outside of Philadelphia. Silverman shot back and took down Plotts, who was carrying 39 rounds of ammunition. “If the doctor did not have a firearm, (and) the doctor did not utilize the firearm, he’d be dead today, and I believe that other people in that facility would also be dead,” stated Delaware County D.A. Jack Whelan.
(More examples of potential mass shootings thwarted by armed citizens.)
Mass shootings comprise less than one percent of all deaths by firearm – suicide, homicide and accident. Far more people die from hitting deer on the highway. And all firearm deaths combined pale in comparison to many other causes. Might we do better to focus our attention on more dire concerns?
There are other similar cases. Yet a mass shooter who kills dozens grabs the national media spotlight for days if not weeks. An armed citizen who stops a mass shooter before he kills more than one or two people inevitably gets relegated to local news. It’s often impossible to tell whether a shooter intended a mass killing, or was merely settling a grudge with one or two other people.
Most mass shootings occur in gun-free zones, public or private – schools, nightclubs, malls, theaters. This limits the potential for armed citizens to stop them. It also suggests that the possibility of armed citizens deters at least some mass shooters.
Yet mass shootings are also incredibly rare for a nation of over 300 million. Do they really warrant such a showering of media attention? Only 78 mass shootings, defined by the F.B.I. as murders by firearm of four or more people unrelated to gang or domestic violence, occurred in the U.S. from 1982 through 2012. That accounts for less than a tenth of one percent of all 559,347 murders spanning those 30 years, as reported by the F.B.I.
(Sensational claims of “hundreds of mass shootings” every year regurgitated throughout the mass media beginning in 2015. The source: social media memes that went viral. Rejecting the standard F.B.I. definition, groups advocating more gun restrictions now redefine a mass shooting as “four or more injured (not killed) by a firearm.”)
Port Arthur Bay, Tasmania, site of most of the killings in the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996. A gunman killed 35 people. Australians banned and confiscated semi-automatic rifles in response. Americans respond to similar incidents by buying more guns.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 created an unofficial system of gun registration. Before its passage, any adult could waltz into a gun store throughout much of the U.S. and purchase a gun with no paperwork record. More federal gun controls followed, such as the Brady instant background check. High-capacity magazines and semi-automatic versions of fully-auto capable military rifles, including the AR-15, were readily available pre-1968, before any imposition, or even talk, of “assault weapons” bans.
If easy access to such guns is a major cause of mass shootings, shouldn’t there have been more back then than now? Is it any wonder that a recent Post-ABC poll shows Americans view, by a 63 to 23 percent margin, failures in mental health care as a better explanation for mass shootings than inadequate gun laws?
(Americans watched their televisions in dismay as the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 unfolded. As looting and violence spread, Korean shopkeepers, many armed with high-capacity semi-automatic rifles and pistols, protected their families and businesses.)
Fully-automatic machine guns fire multiple rounds with a single pull of the trigger. The Firearms Act of 1934 essentially outlawed their sale in the U.S. “Assault weapons” might use the same design, or appear cosmetically similar to a military weapon yet, like hunting rifles, they only shoot one bullet with every trigger pull. Hunting calibers, such as .308 or 30-06, are far more powerful than the .223 round typically used in an AR-15.
Recent mass murders committed in nations with strict gun restrictions add further doubt. Alternate methods of murder, some deadlier than guns, are only limited by a killer’s imagination. A man stabs 19 to death in a Japanese nursing home. Another plows a truck through a crowded street in Nice, France, killing 86 and injuring 307 in just a few minutes.
In the 1970s, those seeking more gun restrictions focused almost entirely on handguns. It’s reflected in the name of their then most prominent lobby, Handgun Control, Inc (renamed the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in 2001). The lobby sought to reassure hunters and sportsmen that they weren’t interested in restricting long guns. To focus on handguns at least made sense. 2014 F.B.I. statistics show that handguns accounted for 5562 murders compared to only 248 for rifles of all types, not just semi-autos or assault rifles. Americans face more than twice the risk of death from a beating.
(A gun store sees a surge in interest and sales after the San Bernardino mass shooting of December, 2015. It happens after every sensational mass shooting and the predictable refrains for more gun restrictions that follow. As more Americans arm themselves, they gain a better understanding of the benefits, responsibilities and risks of gun ownership, and shed the reflexive fear and loathing of guns common to many who didn’t grow up around them. Or who only saw guns used in negative ways. The Pink Pistols, an organization dedicated to armed self-defense for the LGBT community, saw its ranks swell from 1,500 to over 3,500 in the days following the Orlando massacre.)
Still, many Americans now obsess over the remote prospect of encountering a homicidal nut with an AR-15.
So why the shift in focus? Josh Sugarman, strategist for the anti-gun Violence Policy Project, explains.
Assault weapons – just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns and plastic firearms – are a new topic. The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons – anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun – can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons. In addition, few people can envision a practical use for these weapons.
The newly-coined term “assault weapon” caught fire. It captured the imagination and, with the help of a few convenient, high profile mass shootings, struck fear into the hearts of the American people. Little did Sugarman realize that Americans would cling even harder to his old nemesis, the handgun, as their only sure source of protection.
I am a beat reporter here at The Daily Voice, and a writer and editor for DailyTwoCents.com and Writedge.com. My interests are wide ranging outside of the virtual newsroom, yet here I mainly focus on serious world news and commentary. I graduated from the University of Washington with a B.A. in history.