America is facing an epidemic of gun violence.
Thirteen people were killed last week in Binghamton, N.Y., when a gunman, identified by authorities as 41-year-old Jiverly Wong, executed a mass shooting at the American Civic Association. The aftermath of that bloodshed has raised many questions, including whether armed, everyday citizens could take down such a gunman and save lives. Could you protect yourself if you only had a gun?
There are 250 million guns in the United States, enough for almost every man, woman and child to arm themselves. The FBI performed 12 million gun-related background checks in 2008, according to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. And with more than 50 deaths resulting from mass shootings in the past month alone, the argument for ordinary citizens arming themselves in schools, workplaces and anywhere else continues to grow.
But if teachers at Colorado's Columbine High School or the students and faculty of Virginia Tech University had concealed or open-carry permits, range training and loaded handguns mixed with their school supplies, could they have taken down men armed to the teeth, ready to die and acting under the element of surprise?
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Some, like the group Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, which claims to have more than 38,000 members, think it would at least give people a better chance to survive.
Matt Guzman, leader of the advocacy group's Texas chapter, said that an armed student or citizen might even be more effective in taking down a gunman than law enforcement.
"It's a different situation between civilians that are armed and police that are armed," Guzman said in an interview on "Good Morning America Weekend" shortly after a school shooting at Northern Illinois University last year that left six people dead. "When police respond, there's multiple police officers, they're at a safer distance, 20, 30 feet away. And one officer doesn't fire; it's multiple officers firing. [If] it's one person, one criminal, a robbery, mugging, things of that sort [where] the victim is a couple feet away, you don't have to be a crack shot."
But opponents argue that using a weapon for self-defense in a true emergency is not like target practice.
"Video games and movies, they glorify gun fights," said Chris Benton, a police investigator with the Bethlehem, Pa. police department. "It's not reality you know and they get that warped sense that this video games is exactly what I can do in real life."
Opponents also point out that most people are ill-prepared to handle a gun. Only six states, for instance, require any kind of training before issuing a routine permit to own a gun, according to the San Francisco-based Legal Community Against Violence. Of the 48 states that allow concealed-carry permits, less than half require people to "demonstrate knowledge of firearm use and/or safety," and even fewer require an actual training course.
Such a lack of training sends up red flags for people like investigator Benton and firearms instructor Glen Dorney.
"Rounds are coming back at you," Benton said. "You've got outside environments, people are screaming, running. It's too much for a normal person who's never been trained to deal with. It's overwhelming."