Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mass Gunfights Of Confused Citizens

It's a special day when Amanda Marcotte links favorably to a good William Saletan article, so I'll join the conga line.

It always seemed obvious to me that arming ordinary citizens in general would be a disaster, because some of the armed innocent people would mistakenly think they were in a Jared Loughner situation when they weren't and they'd accidentally shoot someone. The per capita mad gunman death rate is really small -- we're in a country of 300 million and it's not like these things are happening every hour somewhere. But how often does some ordinary citizen get firmly convinced he's in a Jared Loughner situation and he's got to kill a mad gunman? Don't know for sure, but in a country of 300 million, at least every hour seems like a good bet. If you saturate the public with concealed handguns, you get a lot of confused citizens killing other citizens whose behavior they misinterpreted.

The real horror hadn't occurred to me -- what if you iterate this scenario? Saletan:
In the chaos and pressure of the moment, you can shoot the wrong person. Or, by drawing your weapon, you can become the wrong person—a hero mistaken for a second gunman by another would-be hero with a gun. Bang, you're dead. Or worse, bang bang bang bang bang: a firefight among several armed, confused, and innocent people in a crowd.


Max Kingsbury said...

Does the data back this fear up? There are plenty of concealed carryers, just as there are plenty of gun owners in general, but I haven't heard of many vigilantes gone wrong. I think the tendency of the general populace is to assume that gun accidents can occur with much the same frequency as car accidents, but what they don't realize is that gun owners are in fact extremely careful with what they understand to be deadly weapons, whereas drivers screw around all of the time because they don't understand how easy it is to kill people with cars.

Neil Sinhababu said...

That's a good question. Let me just make the point as a response to their claim that more gun ownership would prevent crimes.

If you imagine a populace that would be hair-trigger enough to take down the Loughners and in general regularly use guns effectively for crime control, you're imagining a populace hair-trigger enough to create gruesome mass confusion gunfights.