Conservative media and the National Rifle Association's increasing insistence that victims of mass shootings should have been armed is beginning to sound a lot like blaming the victim.
The familiar right-wing talking point has emerged again, as America grapples with yet another instance of mass public violence. This time a man opened fire at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood health center with an AK-47-style assault weapon, killing three people -- including a police officer -- while leaving nine others wounded.
The pronouncements from gun advocates in the media were all too familiar. On Fox News, a network contributor asked, “What if more people had guns there, guys? What if people could've defended themselves?”
Similar commentary was heard from the NRA's media arm, NRA News, where a guest said during the first broadcast following the Planned Parenthood shooting, “I would have loved it if somebody who worked at Planned Parenthood, or one of the patients, or somebody who was waiting had a concealed carry permit and was able to stop this guy before he killed three people and injured nine or ten others,” garnering agreement from NRA News host Cam Edwards.
These claims wrongly imply that it is the responsibility of mass shooting victims to stop their would-be killers as opposed to society's responsibility to stop would-be killers from accessing weapons that make mass murder possible.
The argument that victims of gun violence should have been armed entered the spotlight in December 2012 with NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's commentary on the murder of Kasandra Perkins by her boyfriend, NFL linebacker Jovan Belcher. According to LaPierre, “The one thing missing in that equation is that woman owning a gun so she could have saved her life from that murderer.” (Perkins did actually own guns.)
Just weeks later, members of conservative media raised eyebrows by insisting armed teachers could have stopped the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting. As high-profile mass shootings have continued unabated since then, the argument has become increasingly loud, and in some cases increasingly ugly.
After a mass shooting claimed the lives of nine worshipers at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June, a member of the NRA's board of directors and the head of the extremist Gun Owners of America group both criticized the victims for being unarmed, citing slain pastor Clementa Pinckney's advocacy for stronger gun laws.
And after a man killed nine people at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, in October, NRA board member Ted Nugent claimed that unarmed victims of mass shootings are “losers,” while presidential candidate Ben Carson remarked of the gunman, “I would not just stand there and let him shoot me.”
The notion that victims bear the responsibility of preventing crimes committed against them has long lurked in the conservative media and NRA consciousness, and claims surrounding the victims of the Planned Parenthood attack indicate that this argument is not about to go away.
But even if this type of claim from conservative media and the NRA didn't wrongly shift the onus toward victims to stop their own murders, the argument is not based in reality.
According to an analysis of 62 public mass shootings over a 30 year period, not a single one was stopped by a civilian with a firearm. Simulations of mass shootings also offer little hope that more concealed guns will prevent these attacks.
The United States has so many mass shootings and also so many guns and so many concealed carry permits, but the notion that victims of mass shootings will use guns to take out their attackers has not borne itself out as a reliable real-world solution to the problem of mass violence -- and the insistence that victims should have armed themselves wrongly shifts the burden toward those who are killed as opposed to the killers and the policies that arm them.