Reducing Rampages

Stopping madmen with guns is – statistically speaking – best solved by people, not police, and people with guns.

Rampage killings (which include all the common varieties of incidents where a lot of people are murdered, be it mass public shootings, active shooter events, spree killings, etc.) are what scares voters. Most people know and avoid rough neighborhoods. They also choose friends and mates wisely. This keeps mayhem low, evidenced by the fact most gun crime is isolated in a tiny number of towns with big city gang infestations. It is the random odds of dying in a rampage shooting that spooks folks.

One fellow decided to see what keeps the most people alive in such incidents, and discovered citizens – especially armed citizens – are the most effective, and vastly more so than cops (see the section below on methodology, data quality, etc.).

Survival is the objective

The researcher specifically sought to understand what stops a rampage killer after the shooting begins. In his study he ignored instances where the murderer killed themselves without confrontation (planned suicides) or where they turned themselves in without pressure. He sought to see what ended the carnage regardless of if the spree shooter lived or died.

After all, this is what we care about. We want to ensure that when lunatics erupt, the fewest number of innocent people perish.

Eight to one advantage

Response Source Body Count
Police 14.3
Unarmed Civilians 2.6
Armed Civilians 1.8

After combing through five different timelines of mass murder events in America, and weeding out incidents that were not germane to the study’s objective, the average civilian body count for the three primary means of suppression were remarkable. In the case of armed citizens responding to a rampage shooter, fewer than two people died. When forced to wait on police to arrive, over 14 were murdered.

This really should not surprise anyone. Two inarguable facts exist in these events:

NO RESPONSE IS FATAL: Even lunatics respond to attacks. The more likely an attack will be fatal, the faster the rampage ends be it from a dead murderer, or the rampage killer deciding to commit suicide (and note, most rampage killers do end their own lives once the cops arrive because they already planned on dying that day).

FAST RESPONSE PREVENTS TRIGGER PULLS: Like cancer, the sooner you intervene the more likely it is that people will survive. Tackling or blasting a rampage killer keeps them from shooting or stabbing more humans.

Here is where we see the intersection of two other realities. In the face of an armed attacker, people are reluctant to intervene. This is pure survival instinct. But an armed citizen faces less of that fear and is more likely to put an end to the rampage. Thus, statistically speaking, armed citizens are the best of all alternatives to the rare but very scary rampage shooter.


The author spent time considering what to study, what to exclude, and how to get the data. Any imperfection in his study results from the quality of data, and it certainly is not worse than what other outfits (say, Mother Jones) used.

The author found five different timelines of mass killings, and combined them, eliminating the duplicates. Bravo to him for finding a reasonably reliable means for assuring as many instances as possible were included in the study.

He then went to the web to study each instance. Not only did he comb through news reports, but also odd resources like the MurderPedia web site. From this he gathered details to see which events were mass murders, which were ended by police or civilians, and how the event was terminated.

The two weaknesses of this approach both involve data quality, but neither is worrisome. First, though he used five separate lists, any one or all of them may have been incomplete. But for the purposes of statistical analysis, an incomplete list is not a show stopper. It may skew results a little in favor of civilian response since these events may be covered less in the media due to the lower body count.

The other issue is quality of reporting. Reporters are not as good as they once were, and many details may or may not be accurate. But assuming that there are no gross irregularities – such as saying police confronted the shooter when in fact a civilian did – then the data quality fits the methodology well enough.

SOURCE: Auditing Shooting Rampage Statistics, Davi Barker, July 2013 and updated thereafter


Reducing Rampages — 4 Comments

  1. Liston, I read the report but won’t include it. Though there was nothing inherently wrong with the methodology, it relied on computer modeling, something which I have significant familiarity. I won’t have time to deconstruct their modeling, and even if I did various activists have the right to question modeling assumptions.

  2. Probably already ben posted, but gun free zones are the most dangerous places for our youngsters…We need to get over that already..

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