Wednesday’s horrific shooting during a practice for members of the GOP congressional baseball team was an unnecessary reminder of the prevalence of gun violence in the U.S. The event was notable for its high-profile victims, including Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), a member of House’s Republican Leadership, but it was otherwise bleakly common—an average of 90 people die from gun violence each day and, by some counts, this was the 195 mass shooting of 2017 (the 196th mass shooting occurred hours later in San Francisco).
The incident, which left five wounded, including a congressional aide, a lobbyist and two Capitol Police officers, was described by Breitbart with the headline “Man Opens Fire on Congressional Baseball Practice; Good Guy with Gun Shoots Back.” The “good guys with guns” narrative is an all too common trope we hear from the NRA and its allies after a high-profile shooting, particularly mass shootings. In 2012, a week after the Sandy Hook massacre left twenty-six dead, including twenty children, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” Since that time, this trope has been deployed in response to mass shootings to justify expanding gun availability and ownership and reducing or eliminating gun safety regulations. The only problem is that there’s no evidence that it’s true.
The epidemiology of mass shootings is complicated and anything but straightforward. That said, there are some things we do know. A review of mass shootings between 2000 and 2012 published by the FBI reveals that the median response time for police is three minutes. Admittedly, three minutes is a long time when facing an armed assailant, and with the aid of high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic weapons, shooters are capable of inflicting grievous damage in such a short time. As Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Mich.), a witness to Wednesday’s attack, observed, “He had a rifle that was clearly meant for the job of taking people out, multiple casualties, and he had several rounds and magazines that he kept unloading and reloading.”