And so I put a question to Stephen Barton, who described feeling helpless in the Aurora theater: Would he rather have been armed, or at least been in the theater with armed patrons, when the massacre started?
“Intuitively it makes sense for people to have that reaction, to want to defend themselves,” he said. “It’s easy to say that if more people had guns to defend themselves, they could take criminals down, but I don’t think concealed-carry weapons are the answer.” In a dark and crowded theater, he said, facing someone wearing bullet-resistant armor on much of his body, a gun, even in trained hands, would have been unlikely to do much good.
I put to Tom Mauser a variation of the question I had asked Barton. What if a teacher or an administrator inside Columbine High School had been armed on the day of the massacre? Unlike the theater in Aurora, the school was brightly lit, and not as densely packed. If someone with a gun had confronted Harris and Klebold in the library, he or she would have been able, at the very least, to distract the killers—perhaps even long enough for them to be tackled or disarmed.
“That kind of speculation doesn’t solve anything,” Mauser said. “I don’t know if that person might have shot my son accidentally.”
But the worst thing that could have happened to Daniel Mauser did, in fact, happen. The presence in the Columbine library of a well-trained, armed civilian attempting to stop the killers could hardly have made the situation worse. Indeed, the local police—who waited 45 minutes to enter the school, while a SWAT team assembled—were severely criticized for the delay.
But Mauser remained implacable. “We know that if the country adopts this vision that everyone should be armed—that administrators and janitors in school are armed, that people are walking around armed—we won’t be safe,” Mauser told me. “In Aurora, if five people in that theater had guns, they could have just ended up shooting each other or innocent people in the crossfire. It just makes sense that if people are walking around armed, you’re going to have a high rate of people shooting each other.”
Earlier this year, a man who was upset with the anti-gay-rights position of the Family Research Council entered the group’s Washington, D.C., headquarters and allegedly shot and wounded the building manager (who subsequently tackled the gunman). At the time, Washington’s mayor, Vincent Gray, said: “We don’t need to make more guns available to people … The more access they have, the more they threaten people.”
The District of Columbia does not allow for concealed carry, though its residents can now apply for a license allowing them to keep handguns at home, thanks to the 2008 Supreme Court ruling in a case brought on behalf of a D.C. man who wanted a gun for self-protection.
I called Gray to ask him about his assertion that more guns mean more violence, noting that he himself travels the city with armed police bodyguards, a service not afforded the typical Washington resident. “Well, first of all, I’ve never even seen the guns that the security people have. When I travel outside the city, I don’t have security. I would be fine without security,” he said. “But we have 3,800 police officers to protect people. They may not be at someone’s side at every moment, but they’re around.”