By Massad Ayoob, American Handgunner
Some gun grabbers seek magazine capacity limits, citing the theory it’ll force mass murderers to reload sooner — allowing them to be disarmed by citizens and thus reducing potential death toll.
There are faster ways to stop mass murderers; disarming is a risky strategy at best. In most cases, mass murderers and spree killers carry multiple guns — and they’re not going to give them up to unarmed citizens.
When legislation is introduced to ban or criminalize so-called “high-capacity magazines,” one argument always cited by gun grabbers is it will force mass-murderers to reload sooner — creating a window of opportunity in which some heroic citizen can disarm them and stop the killing. There are, of course, several things wrong with this hypothesis. One is the unrealistic assumption someone who’s willing to commit mass murder won’t be willing to access and use an illegal magazine.
Tactically, how likely is it there will be someone close enough to jump a gunman caught at slide-lock without the rescuer already (being in such close proximity to the murderer) shot before he could even make the disarming attempt? To find the answer, we have to look deeply into the history of such incidents.
Disarms During Reloading … or Not?
Two incidents seem to be most often cited by those who demand reduced magazine capacity. One is the capture of Jared Loughner after the murder spree in Tucson in which he killed six people and wounded a dozen more, including US Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The other is the capture of Colin Ferguson, which ended the Long Island Railroad train massacre, which claimed six lives and left 19 more people wounded.
In each case, multiple people were able to overpower the killer at a point when his weapon was no longer shootable. It should be noted, however, accounts of how it happened seem to differ among the witnesses. In the case of Loughner, we know Patricia Maisch ended up holding one of his magazines. Some of Ms. Maisch’s accounts make it sound as if she ripped it from his hand, while in others, she seems to say he dropped it and she picked it up.
However, Loughner was carrying multiple magazines, and at least one witness insists he had already reloaded a fresh magazine — but had somehow jammed the Glock 19 while attempting to complete the reload. In the Long Island Railroad massacre, Ferguson reloaded at least once and sustained fire. His Ruger P89 had apparently run dry at the time he was rushed and overpowered by unarmed citizens. Accounts differ as to whether Ferguson was attempting to reload a third full magazine at this time, or had shot all his magazines empty and was trying to insert loose cartridges into one of the empty mags.
Thus, it remains possible Loughner was successfully disarmed, not because he was reloading per se, but because he had jammed his already-reloaded gun. If in fact Ferguson had run out of loaded magazines, he was de facto more “out of ammunition” than he was “reloading” at the time he was overpowered and disarmed. Details, details …
There have been successful disarms in public shootings; let’s take a look.
In Moses Lake, Wash., 14-year-old Barry Loukaitis opened fire at the middle school he attended. Armed with a .30-30 rifle, .357 Magnum revolver, .25 auto and 78 rounds of ammunition, he killed three victims and wounded a fourth before a gym coach was able to wrestle the rifle away from him and hold him down. Note: the courageous gym teacher didn’t let the murderer keep shooting and killing until he ran empty — he got the .30-30 away from the young murderer while it was still loaded. If you’re going to attempt a disarm, this strategy would seem likely to save the most lives.
In June 2014, Aaron Ybarra, 26, opened fire at Seattle Pacific University. He killed one and injured three, and was then pepper-sprayed and overpowered by student monitor Jon Meis. According to one report, the killer’s weapon was a double-barrel shotgun, in poor repair and capable of firing only one barrel — for all practical intents and purposes, a single-shot weapon. While this in no way detracts from the courage displayed by the heroic Jon Meis, it’s not common for mass murderers to use single-shot weapons.
Another young hero to emerge from a mass murder atrocity is Jacob Ryker. Kip Kinkel, 15, murdered his parents and gained control of a Ruger 10/22 rifle, Ruger MK II .22 pistol and 9mm Glock 19. He took them to his school in Springfield, Ore., with an ample supply of ammunition and opened fire. His barrage had killed four people and wounded 25 more when one of those wounded students, young Mr. Ryker, jumped him as the killer reloaded the rifle.
However, Kinkel had armed himself with multiple weapons. During the struggle, he drew the 9mm and fired, wounding Ryker again and also another student. Then according to accounts, Ryker, now joined by six other students, was able to finally disarm him and gain physical control. By then, Kinkel had fired a total of 51 rounds, 37 of which struck human targets.
When It Goes Wrong
Getting a gun away from a killer isn’t easy. Good people have died in the attempt. In the Luby’s Cafeteria massacre in Killeen, Texas, George Hennard drove his pickup truck through the plate glass window of the restaurant and stepped out with a Ruger P89 and a Glock 17. He shot 43 people, 23 fatally. In the midst of the slaughter, Al Hupp attempted to disarm the madman.
He wasn’t successful. Hennard shot him in the chest with one of the pistols, mortally wounding him. As Hupp’s wife cradled her dying husband, Hennard shot her dead too. When police arrived and he tasted return fire, Hennard killed himself.
This atrocity occurred before the passage of shall-issue concealed carry in Texas. Suzanna Gratia-Hupp, the murdered couple’s daughter, had left her S&W .38 in her parked vehicle according to Texas law. She was certain she could have neutralized Hennard early in the encounter had her gun been within reach. Instead, she endured the horror of watching her parents murdered. Ever since, Suzanna Gratia-Hupp has been one of our most eloquent and poignant spokespersons for armed citizens and lawful concealed carry.
Perhaps the most glaringly conspicuous failure to disarm occurred during the mass murder that most tore at America’s heart: Sandy Hook. The first to die was petite school principal Dawn Hochsprung. As quintessential loser Adam Lanza blasted his way through the locked door of the school, she ran at him in what could only be construed as an attempt to disarm and restrain.
She apparently never got within touching distance before he shot her down. Later, with 20 helpless children and six brave but helpless adults dead at his hands, he blew his brains out as soon as police arrived.
In Colebrook, N.H., a bitter old man named Carl Drega went on a murder rampage, assassinating two state troopers and a female judge he hated. As he left the latter murder scene, newspaper editor Dennis Joos attempted to get his rifle away from him. Drega reportedly snarled, “Mind your own f—ing business,” threw Joos to the sidewalk, and killed him with multiple gunshots. After a manhunt in which multiple lawmen were wounded, Drega was shot and killed by police.
What about verbally convincing the gunman to just put down the gun? This strategy doesn’t have a promising history. In 2013, a 12-year-old boy came to school with a gun in Sparks, Nev. Teacher Michael Landsberry tried to “talk him down.” The boy shot and killed the teacher, and then committed suicide.
If you’re close enough to grab the offender as soon as he starts shooting — and actually know how to do it — you have a reasonable chance of succeeding. Unfortunately if you’re close, you’ll very likely be one of the first victims of his criminal gunfire, perhaps before you can act. There is also the matter of relative physical strength. In the Loukaitis incident, an adult male gym teacher was able to overpower a 14-year-old boy who, judging by his photos, was physically unintimidating.
In the Drega murders, Dennis Joos wasn’t a physically large or especially strong man, and was up against a rugged, muscular killer who stood over 6’ tall and weighed well over 200 pounds. This disparity made Joos all the more a hero in his last moments, but at the end, a dead hero.
And let’s not forget, the opponent may have multiple guns; it’s going to be awfully hard to disarm him if he’s not in surrender mode. Though most accounts of the Drega murders have him killing Joos with the same .223 he used on his first three victims, the Wikipedia story on the case as of this summer states, “During the struggle Drega shot and killed Joos with a second firearm.” And we recall Jacob Ryker was wounded in the Kinkel incident when the punk he was disarming drew a second gun and shot him and another boy.
Ron Borsch is a retired career lawman and SWAT cop, whose second career was as head of the Southeast Area Law Enforcement Academy in Bedford, Ohio. A pioneer in the concept of lone-officer response to active mass murder incidents, he’s one of the nation’s leading authorities on this sort of terrible event. When he and I were both instructing at the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) conference earlier this year, I asked him how many of the mass killers he studied had been armed with multiple guns. “Well over half,” he answered.
This isn’t new. One of the worst mass murderers in American history goes back to Civil War times, “Bloody Bill” Anderson, a senior officer in Quantrill’s Raiders. The trademark of these guerrillas was carrying multiple revolvers, usually .36-caliber Navy Colts. When he was killed in a shootout with Union troops, an eyewitness to Anderson’s death said, “Bloody Bill had four revolvers buckled around him and two very large ones across the saddle.”
Next page, Texas Tower and Going Postal…
In 1966, Charles Whitman ascended the Texas Tower in Austin with so many guns and ammunition he had them in a footlocker, which he rolled into the elevator on a dolly. He murdered 17 people and wounded 32 more from his lofty perch immune to .38-caliber revolver fire and 12-ga. buckshot from police, until rifle fire from armed citizens on the ground pinned him down. Another armed citizen led police to his sniper’s nest atop the tower, where they killed him.
The term “going postal” came in large part from Patrick Sherrill’s death orgy in the Edmond, Okla., Post Office (14 dead, six wounded, perpetrator took own life). Sherrill was armed with two 1911 .45’s he had been issued by the National Guard, and a .22 target pistol of his own.
The list goes on. James Holmes in the Aurora, Colo., theater: AR-15 with high-capacity magazine which jammed early on, 12-ga. Remington 870 and two Glock 22 pistols, one on his person and one in his car. He surrendered as soon as police confronted him. By then, he had shot 82 helpless people in his chosen “Gun-Free Zone,” a dozen of them fatally. He, like the other multiple-armed perpetrators discussed here, would have been tough to disarm.
A Better Strategy
When a monster with a lethal weapon attempts wholesale murder of the innocent, what’s a better strategy than expecting untrained potential victims to grapple with them?
Quite simply, have a trained, armed person in place to suppress them.
A few months before the Aurora theater atrocity, another incident happened in the same city, which the national media chose to virtually ignore. On April 22, 2012, Kiarron Parker opened fire outside a church in Aurora, killing the pastor’s mother. Instantly, one member of the congregation — an off-duty Denver Police officer named Antonio Milow — drew his own handgun and shot and killed Kiarron before he could wreak any more mayhem.
In 2007, also in Colorado, psycho loser Matthew Murray shot multiple people at one church then went to another, where he opened fire and shot more victims. Then, Jeanne Assam — a former cop, working as volunteer church security — ran at him with a Beretta 92 in her hands, firing as she went. She hit him with bullet after 124-gr. 9mm JHP bullet, and he went down with just enough life force left to shoot himself. The pastor of the church later credited Assam with saving 100 or more lives. A detailed account of this incident can be found in the Ayoob Files archives here at American Handgunner.
Luke Woodham, 16, stabbed and bludgeoned his mother to death to get the keys to his estranged father’s gun cabinet, where he took a Marlin .30-30 rifle and headed to his high school in Pearl, Miss. He shot nine of his teenage schoolmates, killing two.
As he drove out of the parking lot — on course to a nearby junior high school, and still armed with the rifle and more ammunition — Woodham was taken at gunpoint by Vice Principal Joel Myrick, who had sprinted to the parking lot to retrieve a Colt .45 auto from his truck. The killer stopped his car, exited and went to the ground in front of the armed teacher squealing, “The world has wronged me, Mr. Myrick!” A detailed account of this event is also in the Ayoob Files archives.
Waiting for the gunman to run empty and then jumping him for the gun, no matter how many rounds it was loaded with, is simply not as viable of a strategy as it sounds. History teaches us another strategy works much better.
This strategy is born in reality: In almost every one of these highly-publicized mass murder/killing spree incidents, as soon as the gunman is met with return fire he ceases shooting innocent people and either is killed, kills himself or surrenders soon thereafter. Unarmed, untrained people attempting disarms sometimes actually prevailed, but oftentimes were hurt or killed in the attempt.
Those who would commit the most rigidly prohibited crimes in the history of civilization are certainly not likely to be deterred by a law limiting magazine capacity. The only people who can be realistically expected to obey such laws are, by definition, the law-abiding and not the law-breakers.
When in the wake of the Sandy Hook atrocity, NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre said the only thing capable of stopping a bad guy with a gun was a good guy with a gun, he was shouted down and excoriated by the mass media. Yet, history and reality combine to show he spoke the absolute truth.
After the Ma’alot Massacre, Israel put armed good guys into their schools; many of them school personnel and student family members who volunteered to be trained for the job by Mishmar Ezrachi, the Israeli civil guard. Terrorist attacks on schoolchildren plummeted.
Here in the US, intended mass school shootings have been short-circuited by armed SRO’s, school resource officers from local law enforcement agencies. An increasing number of school systems are, to the horror of the gun grabbers, quietly arming and training volunteer personnel to perform the same function as the Israeli model. Discreet arming of church volunteers for the protection of the congregation seems to have become even more widespread.
We can only wonder what might have happened if the courageous principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, Dawn Hochsprung, had been armed and capable of dealing with Adam Lanza on that terrible day in December 2012. She died courageously, trying to defend the little children and the adult staff for whom she was responsible. Her empty hands rendered her brave spirit futile, and we all know what happened next.
If instead those empty hands had held Jeanne Assam’s Beretta 92 with the same skill. If …
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