Navy Yard Shows Fallacy of NRA’s ‘More Guns’ Solution

After Newtown, the gun lobby powerhouse said the solution was armed guards. So what about Navy Yard?

Members of the military guard a military garage near the Navy Yard. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
National Journal
Matthew Cooper
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Matthew Cooper
Sept. 17, 2013, 5:34 a.m.

After the shoot­ing in New­town that left 20 ele­ment­ary school stu­dents dead, the Na­tion­al Rifle As­so­ci­ation re­spon­ded with a pro­pos­al for what it called Na­tion­al School Shield pro­gram. The idea, said the or­gan­iz­a­tion’s lead­er, Wayne LaPierre, was that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” The shield pro­gram aimed to put an armed guard in every ele­ment­ary school in the coun­try to pro­tect chil­dren from the next de­ranged killer.

The Navy Yard shoot­ing ex­poses a fal­lacy in that ar­gu­ment. A mil­it­ary fa­cil­ity, the Navy Yard had plenty of good guys with weapons who were non­ethe­less were un­able to stop Aaron Alex­is, the al­leged shoot­er, from killing a dozen in­no­cent per­sons. In the com­ing weeks, we’ll learn more about Navy Yard se­cur­ity and how Alex­is was able to thwart it. (We’ll also learn more about how he ob­tained his arms, but let’s leave that aside for now.)

True, the Navy Yard is not a heav­ily armed fa­cil­ity. It’s not like, say, walk­ing in­to a mil­it­ary base in the U.S. let alone onto a war zone. But neither was it the kind of gun-free school zone that the NRA has de­scribed as an in­vit­ing tar­get for crazed shoot­ers. It was at least as heav­ily armed as we can ex­pect any ele­ment­ary school could ever be un­der the Na­tion­al School Shield pro­gram. And yet, carnage.

The NRA is in some sense right that guns stop mass shoot­ers ““ al­though in At­lanta this year, a de­ranged man with weapons was talked in­to sur­render by a savvy, quick-think­ing ad­min­is­trat­or. Still, guns stopped Alex­is, not pleas. In that sense, La Pierre is right.

But it’s also true that shoot­ers seem em­in­ently cap­able of wreak­ing carnage be­fore they can be stopped by on-site, armed per­son­nel. This was true in the shoot­ing at the U.S. Army’s Fort Hood base and at Columbine High School, which had an armed guard. By the NRA’s own lo­gic, un­less vir­tu­ally every teach­er in a school, or per­son in an of­fice, is pack­ing heat and is trained to use their weapon, a de­term­ined shoot­er can sow hav­oc be­fore their weapons are si­lenced

After New­town, La Pierre looked to re­tired po­lice of­ficers, among oth­ers, to be en­lis­ted so that there would be a guard in every ele­ment­ary school.

There may be a good ar­gu­ment for hav­ing armed guards in schools and many have chosen to provide such pro­tec­tion, but the idea that guards alone will pre­vent mass shoot­ings isn’t one of them. If the United States Navy couldn’t take out a mass shoot­er be­fore he—and it’s al­ways a he—does his de­ranged work, can a guard?

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