In the midst of the first national debate on gun control since 1994, and widespread allegations that the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban was ineffective, I thought I’d share the story of how one several-times-banned gun made its way illegally into the hands of two 17-year-olds, circumventing state and federal laws in the long and tortuous process.

The other weapons used by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris – a Hi-Point 995 9mm carbine with thirteen 10-round magazines, a sawed-off Savage 67H 12-gauge pump shotgun, and a sawed-off Stevens 311D double-barreled shotgun (the boys also had 99 home-made explosives and 4 knives) – were all purchased for them by Dylan Klebold’s girlfriend, 18-year-old Columbine student Robyn Anderson, who accompanied the two 17-year-olds to the Tanner Gun Show outside Denver, shopping with their cash. She was what is called a “straw purchaser”, but it would not have been necessary, since youths were allowed to buy rifles and shotguns in Colorado and no background checks are necessary when guns are sold by individuals rather than federally-licensed gun dealers.


Hi-Point 995 9mm Carbine

Federal law forbids gun dealers to sell shotguns or rifles to anyone younger than 18. It also forbids “straw” sales to someone obviously acquiring guns for people ineligible to buy them. But those prohibitions apply only to licensed firearms dealers.

But the weapon that did the most lethal damage at Columbine HS was an Intratec TEC-DC9 9mm submachine pistol, with 52-, 32- & 28-round magazines. Originally a fully-automatic handgun designed for the Apartheid South African government to compete with the Israeli Uzi, it became a semi-automatic pistol manufactured by its Swedish designer and an expatriate Cuban living in Little Havanna, Miami, Florida in the early 1980s.


Intratec TEC-DC9

Twice banned by the ATF, first because of its easy conversion to fully automatic and then because it included a two-hand “assault grip” designed for easy spraying of bullets, the manufacturer kept tweaking the design to stay just within the legal boundaries (though two employees were sentenced to a year in jail when they tried to sell fully automatic versions to an undercover ATF agent in 1994).

The company also used rather questionable advertising to promote the gun, with one ad referring to its “excellent resistance to fingerprints” and another that used a human head and heart as bull’s-eyes, with gun smoke pouring from both.

Needless to say, it became a hot item at many gun dealers and gun shows and was the kind of gun that appealed to Soldier of Fortune reader Luigi Ferri, a disgruntled client of the Pettit and Martin law firm in San Francisco. The gun was among those banned in his home state of California after Patrick Purdy shot up a Stockton schoolyard in 1989 with an AK-47, killing five children. So Ferri went to Nevada, where he bought two TEC-DC9s.

On July 1, 1993, Ferri stepped off the elevator on the 34th floor of a San Francisco building and into Pettit and Martin’s law offices, armed with his two TEC-DC9s, ammunition magazines with 40 to 50 bullets and a .45-caliber Norinco pistol, and walked from room to room and floor to floor, firing barrages of 9mm bullets, finishing off some victims with the Norinco, killing eight people and wounded six others, before shooting himself.

In a civil lawsuit that followed, plaintiffs’ witness James Alan Fox, a criminal-justice expert at Northeastern University in Boston, using federal gun-tracing statistics from 1990-94, concluded that TEC-9 owners were five times more likely to commit murder than other handgun owners. He also found that more TEC9s had been traced from crime scenes than any other assault weapon for five consecutive years.

Three weeks after the San Francisco massacre, US Sen. Dianne Feinstein called for a ban on assault weapons, including the TEC-9 and TEC-DC9. She co-sponsored a bill outlawing the manufacture of 19 guns, all other “copycat” guns and the production of magazines holding more than 10 bullets. It did not, however, prohibit owning or selling assault weapons, and many semiautomatic pistols and rifles were exempted from the manufacturing ban.

The exceptions were holes big enough to push the 2nd Amendment through: at the time, there were roughly 1.5 million assault weapons and more than 24 million high-capacity magazines in private hands. And, in the year it took Congress to debate and just barely pass the Assault Weapons Ban (by a couple of votes in each house), production and sales of such weapons soared. By 1997, Carlos Garcia, the manufacturer of the TEC-9, moved into a new 14,516 square foot waterfront home in the Miami suburb of Coral Cables with a backyard dock suitable for his 37-foot boats.

During that final flurry of production, the manufacturer, Navegar, produced a TEC-DC9 stamped as its 76,305th unit.

Three years after the manufacture of TEC-DC9s was banned, a farm-supply store called Zanders in Baldwin Illinois, one of the nation’s largest gun distributors, sold one stamped with the serial number D076305.

Royce Spain, who owned Just Guns, a tiny storefront sandwiched between a bar and a burrito shop, often bought guns from Zanders, and in 1997 he bought that particular TEC-DC9. He never particularly liked TEC-9s. He didn’t consider them reliable. Yet he probably sold more TEC-9s than anything else. “It was one gun you could make money on”, he said.

Spain rarely sold a gun at his storefront, Just Guns, which was hardly ever open. He spent his weekdays hunting for deals at pawn shops and his weekends at gun shows, where he made about 95% of his sales.

Federal regulations require a licensed firearms dealer to have a business location with regular hours. Failing to operate the business as licensed can be grounds for revocation. But there are 104,000 licensed firearms dealers in the United States, or 130 for every ATF inspector, and a gun store that rarely opens may go unnoticed.

When Spain decided in 1998 that Just Guns was not paying his bills, he converted about 30 store guns to his personal collection and turned them over to his friend and gun show dealer Larry Russell. One was gun No. D076305.

Federal regulations require firearms dealers to keep records of each sale and call for a criminal background check of each customer, including those at gun shows. But when a gun dealer goes out of business, he can put any remaining guns into his personal collection and sell them without records or background checks. He also can let a friend sell those guns on consignment.

Selling TEC-DC9s is illegal in Denver, which has banned their possession. But they are sold legally at the Denver Merchandise Mart just outside the city limits, where the Tanner Gun Show is held 10 times a year.

Russell took Spain’s guns to a Tanner show in August of 1998. By then Spain no longer had a federal firearms license. Neither, at the time, did Russell. Because sales by unlicensed vendors at gun shows are not regulated, Russell was able to sell the TEC-DC9 legally, and anonymously, to a young man looking for a high-powered handgun.

The buyer was Mark Manes, a 22-year-old computer technician whose mother, ironically, is a member of Handgun Control Inc.

Manes did not own his new assault weapon for long. Phillip Duran, a friend who worked at a Blackjack Pizza parlor, told him “two guys” at the pizza place were looking for a TEC-9. On Jan. 23, 1999, at another Tanner Gun Show, Duran introduced Manes to the two guys. They were both 17, too young to buy a handgun legally, but Manes offered to sell it for $500, and they agreed.

That night, Manes sold the gun at the house where he lived with his parents, on a suburban street not far from Columbine High. The buyers were Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.

As of three months after the Columbine High massacre, the TEC-DC9 was the only gun investigators have managed to trace from its manufacturer, through all its sellers and buyers, to Harris and Klebold.

In Colorado, Mark Manes and Phillip Duran were arrested on felony charges of selling a handgun to minors. They are the only people who faced charges related to the Columbine High massacre.

Straw purchaser Robyn Anderson, a National Honor Society member, was interviewed “as a witness and she is not considered a suspect” in the Columbine tragedy.

While gun violence did fall in the 1990s during the Assault Weapons Ban, this was likely due to other factors. Assault weapons were never a huge factor in gun violence to begin with, and were used in only 2% to 8% of gun crimes. Large-capacity magazines were more important – used in as many as a quarter of gun crimes. But, again, the 1994 law left more than 24 million magazines untouched, so the impact was blunted.

Did the law have an effect on mass shootings? That’s possible, though not certain. As this chart from Princeton’s Sam Wang shows, the number of people killed in mass shootings did go down in the years the ban was in effect (save for a surge in 1999, a year that included Columbine):

Because mass shootings are relatively rare, it’s difficult to tell whether this was just a random blip or caused by the ban. Still, the number of mass shootings per year has more than doubled since the ban expired, with the annual death toll nearly tripling.

Following implementation of the ban, the share of gun crimes involving assault weapons declined by 17% to 72% in Baltimore, Miami, Milwaukee, Boston, St. Louis, and Anchorage. (Christopher S. Koper, “An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003”, Report to the National Institute of Justice, US Department of Justice.)

During the ban, the Virginia State Police saw a clear decline in the percentage of crime guns with large capacity magazines, reaching a low of 10% in 2004. After Congress failed to renew the ban, that percentage steadily climbed; by 2010, nearly 22% of crime guns in Virginia had large capacity magazines. (US Dept. of Justice and the Washington Post)

When Maryland imposed a more stringent ban on assault pistols and high-capacity magazines in 1994, it led to a 55% drop in assault pistols recovered by the Baltimore Police Department. (“The Maryland Ban on the Sale of Assault Pistols and High-Capacity Magazines: Estimating the Impact in Baltimore”, 87 Am. J. of Public Health 2, Feb. 1997)

A Justice Department study of the assault weapons ban found that it was responsible for a 6.7% decrease in total gun murders, holding all other factors equal. The same study also found that “Assault weapons are disproportionately involved in murders with multiple victims, multiple wounds per victim, and police officers as victims.” (Jeffrey A. Roth & Christopher S. Koper, “Impact Evaluation of the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994”)

Thirty-seven percent of police departments reported seeing a noticeable increase in criminals’ use of assault weapons since the 1994 federal ban expired. (Police Executive Research Forum, Guns and Crime: Breaking New Ground by Focusing on the Local Impact, May 2010)

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence examined the impact of the Assault Weapons Ban in its 2004 report, “On Target: The Impact of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapon Act”. Examining 1.4 million guns involved in crime, “in the five-year period before enactment of the Federal Assault Weapons Act (1990-1994), assault weapons named in the Act constituted 4.82% of the crime gun traces ATF conducted nationwide. Since the law’s enactment, however, these assault weapons have made up only 1.61% of the guns ATF has traced to crime.”

In my own analysis of 120 mass public shootings in the US since 1982, 22% occurred in the 13 years prior to the Assault Weapons Ban, 22% during the ten years of the ban, and 57% in the 9 years since the ban’s expiration – or 2.4 times as many per year (though this may, in part, be an artifact of better news reporting or internet archiving in recent years).

I also found that of those 120 mass public shooting incidents, 48% involved either assault weapons or high-capacity magazines (often in semi-automatic pistols) or both. And, of the 31 rampage shooting incidents in schools since 1984, 22 of them (71%) involved such weapons.

So, while the NRA and gun rights supporters argue that only a tiny percentage of gun crime in the US involves the weapons that we tried to ban in 1994 (a “Swiss cheese” ban that had more holes than substance) and that Obama would like to ban again, the majority of the most heinous mass shooters use these high-capacity weapons as the tool of choice for inflicting the most carnage in the least amount of time.

Avid “sports” shooters argue that they can change magazines so quickly that banning large-capacity magazines won’t make any difference (if that were true, then why would they be fighting it?). But, in at least three mass shootings, unarmed civilians were able to subdue the perpetrator when they were trying to change magazines: the 1998 Springfield OR Thurston High School shooting, the 1993 Long Island Railroad shooting, and the 2011 Tucson AZ Gabriel Giffords shooting.

There is also evidence that potential victims were able to hide or escape when rampaging shooters were changing magazines, including at Columbine High School (1999), Northern Illinois University (2008), and Sandy Hook Elementary School (2012).

The NRA and gun rights advocates also insist that if more “good guys” were packing heat, more “bad guys” could be stopped. The record, however, doesn’t seem to support this. In most such cases, either the shooter was done with the deed or out of ammunition, or the “civilian” interveners were off-duty police or former military with the training to react properly. In other cases, even with highly-experienced gun owners, the results were tragic for themselves.

At a shopping mall shooting in Tacoma, Washington in 2005, a civilian with a concealed carry permit named Brendan McKown confronted the assailant with his handgun. The shooter pumped several bullets into McKown, wounding six people before eventually surrendering to police after a hostage standoff. A comatose McKown eventually recovered after weeks in the hospital.

At a courthouse shooting in Tyler, Texas in 2005, a civilian named Mark Wilson, who was a firearms instructor, fired his licensed handgun at a man on a rampage. Wilson was shot dead by the body-armored assailant, who wielded an AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifle.

And, at the Gabriel Giffords shooting in Tuscon Arizona in 2011, moments after the shooter, Jared Loughner, was tackled by an unarmed and wounded 74-year-old man and a 62-year-old Gifford aid while trying to reload (his dropped magazine grabbed by a 61-year-old woman), a concealed carry permit holder arrived on the scene with his gun in his hand and nearly shot one of the men who had disarmed Lougher. The would-be rescuer said he saw one of the men holding the Glock handgun, and at first thought he was the killer. “I was really lucky,” the concealed gun carrier said later in an interview with Fox and Friends. “I could have easily done the wrong thing and hurt a lot of people.”

Such actions in chaotic situations don’t just put the well-intentioned citizen at risk. According to Robert McMenomy, an assistant special agent in charge in the San Francisco division of the FBI, they increase the danger to innocent bystanders. They also make law enforcement officers’ jobs more difficult. “In a scenario like that” he said “they wouldn’t know who was good or who was bad, and it would divert them from the real threat.”

Further, there are more reported incidents of unarmed bystanders stopping a rampaging killer than anyone with a gun. This occurred in the 1995 City of Industry CA postal shooting, the 1985 Springfield PA shopping mall shooting, the 1998, Springfield OR Thurston High School shooting, the 1993 Long Island Railroad shooting, the 2011 Tucson AZ Giffords shooting, and the 2012 Washington DC Family Research Council shooting.

While gun apologists cite several surveys that claim anywhere from 100,000 to 2.5 million defensive uses of guns per year in the US, a 2009 University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun.

And a study of defensive use of firearms by the Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health in 2000, had a team of three criminal court judges evaluate each reported incident and determined that at least 50% were aggressive uses and likely illegal.

I could go on at length to counteract every argument made by gun-rights advocates, because none of them hold up under scrutiny (and my essay The Real Second Amendment explains the history, meaning, intent and legal interpretation of the Constitutional right to bear arms), but the fact that a half dozen national polls show a 90% majority of Americans across the political spectrum (including 87% of gun owners and 74% of NRA members) in favor – at least – of universal background checks while Congress struggles with passage of even this common-sense policy, shows just how powerful the NRA lobby still is and how fiercely the small minority of 2nd Amendment extremists defend America’s tradition of self-defense and fear of government.

It’s rare for that large a majority of Americans to agree on anything, but our democracy is held hostage to mercenary interests and corporate profits, and it’s not clear than any meaningful gun reform will emerge from DC – certainly not the kind of holistic package of legislation that is needed to have a substantive effect on a problem that has risen to crisis proportions.

More Guns – Less Crime?

Gun advocates routinely cite John Lott to justify their insistence that civilian guns reduce crime, and base this contention on Lott’s 1997 study and subsequent 1998 book, More Guns, Less Crime, which claims that “shall issue” concealed carry permits reduce violent crime rates everywhere they’re available.

However, John Lott is probably the most discredited gun violence researcher in the US, was the subject of an ethics inquiry by Northwestern University Professor of Law James Lindgren after failing to produce evidence that he actually conducted a 1997 survey on defensive gun use, and admitted to fabricating a false on-line persona of a past student who defended his research in many internet discussions.

But, more importantly, almost the entire body of gun violence research contradicts the thesis of his articles, book and many public appearances supporting gun “rights”. Here is a sampling:

The Relationship Between Gun Ownership and Firearm Homicide Rates in the United States, 1981–2010 by Michael Siegel, MD, MPH, Craig S. Ross, MBA, and Charles King III, JD, PhD, Am J Public Health, September 12, 2013

This largest study ever performed on the topic found that for each percentage point increase in gun ownership, the firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9%. This was true over a 30-year period in all 50 states, after correcting for other known causal factors.

Comparing data from 27 developed countries, we found that the number of guns per capita per country was a strong and independent predictor of firearm-related death in a given country, whereas the predictive power of the mental illness burden was of borderline significance in a multivariable model. Regardless of exact cause and effect, however, the current study debunks the widely quoted hypothesis that guns make a nation safer. – Gun Ownership and Firearm-related Deaths, Sripal Bangalore, MD, MHA,  Franz H. Messerli, MD, The American Journal of Medicine, October 2013

For most contemporary Americans, scientific studies indicate that the health risk of a gun in the home is greater than the benefit. The evidence is overwhelming for the fact that a gun in the home is a risk factor for completed suicide and that gun accidents are most likely to occur in homes with guns. There is compelling evidence that a gun in the home is a risk factor for intimidation and for killing women in their homes. On the benefit side, there are fewer studies, and there is no credible evidence of a deterrent effect of firearms or that a gun in the home reduces the likelihood or severity of injury during an altercation or break-in. – Risks and Benefits of a Gun in the Home, by David Hemenway, PhD, Professor of Health Policy at the Harvard School of Public Health and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 2011

Based on a review of the available scientific data, the dangers of having a gun at home far outweigh the safety benefits. Research shows that access to guns greatly increases the risk of death and firearm-related violence. A gun in the home is twelve times more likely to result in the death of a household member or visitor than an intruder. The most common cause of deaths occurring at homes where guns are present, by far, is suicide. Many of these self-inflicted gunshot wounds appear to be impulsive acts by people without previous evidence of mental illness. Guns in the home are also associated with a fivefold increase in the rate of intimate partner homicide, as well as an increased risk of injuries and death to children. – Guns at Home Increase Dangers, Not Safety, by Dr. Lippmann and co-authors, Southern Medical Journal, Feb 2010

After adjustment, individuals in possession of a gun were 4.46 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession. Among gun assaults where the victim had at least some chance to resist, this adjusted odds ratio increased to 5.45. On average, guns did not protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault. – Investigating the Link Between Gun Possession and Gun Assault, by Charles C. Branas, PhD, Therese S. Richmond, PhD, CRNP, Dennis P. Culhane, PhD, Thomas R. Ten Have, PhD, MPH, and Douglas J. Wiebe, PhD, American Journal of Public Health, November 2009, Vol. 99, No. 11

Results show that regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home, having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home. – Guns in the Home and Risk of a Violent Death in the Home: Findings from a National Study by Linda L. Dahlberg, Robin M. Ikeda and Marcie-jo Kresnow, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 160, Issue 10, 2004

The results show strong correlations between the presence of guns in the home and suicide committed with a gun, rates of gun-related homicide that involved female victims, and gun-related assault. – Guns, Violent Crime, and Suicide in 21 Countries, by Martin Killias, John van Kesteren, Martin Rindlisbacher, Canadian Journal of Criminology  Volume:43  Issue:4 October 2001

For every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides. – Injuries and Deaths due to Firearms in the Home, by Kellermann, Somes, Rivara, Lee, Banton, Journal of Trauma, 1998

Instead of conferring protection, keeping a gun in the home is associated with increased risk of both suicide and homicide of women. – Risk Factors for Violent Death of Women in the Home, by Bailey JE, Kellermann AL, Somes GW, Banton JG, Rivara FP, Rushforth NP, New England Journal of Medicine, 1993

We found an 8-fold increase in intimate partner femicide risk associated with abusers’ access to firearms… A small percentage (5%) of women lived apart from the abuser and owned a gun, however, and there was no clear evidence of protective effects. – Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results From a Multisite Case Control Study, by Cambell et al, American Journal of Public Health, 2003

The present study, based on a sample of eighteen countries, confirms the results of previous work based on the 14 countries surveyed during the first International Crime Survey. Substantial correlations were found between gun ownership and gun-related as well as total suicide and homicide rates. – Gun Ownership, Suicide and Homicide: An International Perspective, by Martin Killias, 1993

Positive correlations were obtained between the rates of household gun ownership and the national rates of homicide and suicide as well as the proportions of homicides and suicides committed with a gun. – International Correlations Between Gun Ownership and Rates Of Homicide And Suicide, by Martin Killias, Dr. iur., Lic. phil., Canadian Medical Association Journal #148 1993

Legislation allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons does not reduce crime. More Guns, More Crime, by Mark Duggan, University of Chicago and National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 7967, October 2000, Journal of Political Economy, 2001, vol. 109, no. 5

My results suggest that shall-issue laws have resulted, if anything, in an increase in adult homicide rates. – Concealed-Gun-Carrying Laws and Violent Crime: Evidence from State Panel Data, by Jens Otto Ludwig, JCPR Working Papers from Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research, 1998

“The most consistent finding to emerge from both the state and county panel data models conducted over the entire 1977-2006 period is that aggravated assault rises when RTC laws are adopted. For every other crime category, there is little or no indication of any consistent RTC impact on crime.” – The Impact of Right to Carry Laws and the NRC Report: The Latest Lessons for the Empirical Evaluation of Law and Policy, by Abhay Aneja, John J. Donohue III, Alexandria Zhang, NBER Working Paper No. 18294, Issued in August 2012

Other studies contradicting the More Guns – Less Crime conclusion of John Lott:

Ian Ayres, Yale Law School, and John Donohue, Stanford Law School, Shooting Down the More Guns, Less Crime Hypothesis, Stanford Law Review, 2003.

Jens Ludwig, Georgetown University, “Concealed-Gun-Carrying Laws and Violent Crime: Evidence from State Panel Data”, International Review of Law and Economics, 1998.

Dan Black and Daniel Nagin, D” Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 209–213 (January 1998).

Tomislav V. Kovandzic and Thomas B. Marvell, Right-To-Carry Concealed Firearms and Violent Crime: Crime Control Through Gun Decontrol? Criminology and Public Policy 2, (2003) pp. 363-396.

John J. Donahue III, Stanford Law School,The Final Bullet in the Body of the More Guns, Less Crime Hypothesis, Criminology and Public Policy, 2003.

John Donohue and Ian Ayres. More Guns, Less Crime Fails Again: The Latest Evidence from 1977–2006, Econ Journal Watch 6.2 (2009): 218-238.

Also, these recent studies disprove the assertion that “an armed society is a polite society”:

Polite Society

Drivers who carry guns are 44% more likely than unarmed drivers to make obscene gestures at other motorists, and 77% more likely to follow them aggressively. – Is an Armed Society a Polite Society? – Guns and Road Rage, Hemenway, Vriniotis & Miller, Accident Analysis & Prevention, 2006

Among Texans convicted of serious crimes, those with concealed-handgun licenses were sentenced for threatening someone with a firearm 4.8 times more than those without. – When Concealed Handgun Licensees Break Bad: Criminal Convictions of Concealed Handgun Licensees in Texas, 2001–2009, Phillips, Charles D.; Nwaiwu, McMaughan, Darcy, Edwards & Lin, American Journal of Public Health, 2013

“Guns are used to threaten and intimidate far more often than they are used in self defense. Most self reported self defense gun uses may well be illegal and against the interests of society.” – Gun use in the United States: results from two national surveys, D Hemenway, D Azrael, M Miller, Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health, Injury Prevention, 2000


“If someone is shooting at you, it is generally better to shoot back than to cower and pray.” – Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, 12/2012

In response to the attack on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in Phoenix, Rush Limbaugh opined: “One bystander armed with a concealed carry pistol could have ended this.”

Ironically, moments after the shooter, Jared Loughner, was tackled by wounded 74-year-old retired Army Colonel Bill Badger and 61-year-old retired nursery wholesaler and Gifford campaign volunteer Roger Sulzgeber while trying to reload and had his dropped magazine grabbed by 61-year-old business woman Patricia Maisch, a concealed carry permit holder named Joe Zamudio arrived on the scene with his gun off safety and his hand wrapped around it in his pocket, and nearly shot one of the men who had disarmed Lougher. The would-be rescuer said he saw one of the men holding the Glock and at first thought he was the killer. Zamudio grabbed the man’s arm and shoved him into a wall before realizing he wasn’t the shooter. And one reason why Zamudio didn’t pull out his own weapon was that “he didn’t want to be confused as a second gunman”. “I was really lucky,” Zamudio said later in an interview with Fox and Friends. “I could have easily done the wrong thing and hurt a lot of people.”

Such actions in chaotic situations don’t just put the well-intentioned citizen at risk, of course. According to Robert McMenomy, an assistant special agent in charge in the San Francisco division of the FBI, they increase the danger for innocent bystanders. They also make law enforcement officers’ jobs more difficult. “In a scenario like that,” he said, “they wouldn’t know who was good or who was bad, and it would divert them from the real threat.”

The argument for armed citizen intervention, however, has roots in an aphorism pushed by John W. Campbell that “an armed society is a polite society.” based on a romantic view of the Wild West that had no basis in historical fact. The most famous Western towns, such as Tombstone, Deadwood and Dodge, all outlawed the carrying of firearms within town limits.

Tombstone AZ

Fortunately, cowering and shooting back aren’t the only two options. And, in fact, rampage shootings almost always end in one of three ways: (1) police intervention, (2) the gunman’s suicide or (3) the shooter being tackled by some brave bystander while he reloads.

There are many cases of unarmed civilians successfully stopping a shooter, but not a single case of a concealed carry civilian – who was not military, police or a security guard – ending a mass shooting that would not have ended otherwise or was not already over.

Of 104 “active shooter” events from 2000-2010 studied by J. Pete Blair, PhD,  Director of Research, Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training, Texas State University, half ended before police arrived and more were ended by civilians subduing the perpetrator than by police either subduing or forcing surrender. The majority who stop pre-arrival of law enforcement end by suicide, while after police arrive almost as many are shot as kill themselves.

October 30, 1985, Springfield, PA: Sylvia Wynanda Seegrist opened fire at a shopping mall, killing three people and wounding seven others before being disarmed by a Volunteer Firefighter/EMT who was shopping at the mall.

Colin Ferguson, 35, opened fire on an eastbound Long Island Rail Road train as it approached a Garden City station on December 7, 1993. Three passengers tackled him while he was reloading after he had killed 6 and injured 19 with a Ruger 9 mm pistol he had bought legally in California.

May 20-21, 1998, Springfield, OR, Kipland Philip “Kip” Kinkel, 15, killed 4 (his parents the day before and 2 students) and wounded 25 at Thurston High School with a Ruger 22 semi-automatic rifle (and two handguns) with a 50-round magazine, before he was finally tackled to the ground by other students while trying to reload.

July 10, 1995, City of Industry, CA: Bruce Clark, postal clerk pulled out a .38 revolver and at close range fatally shot his supervisor twice, once in the upper body and once in the face. Two employees reportedly took the gun away from Bruce Clark and held him until police arrived.

On July 27, 2008, a politically motivated shooting took place at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Motivated by a desire to kill liberals and Democrats, gunman Jim David Adkisson fired a shotgun at members of the congregation during a youth performance of a musical, killing two people and wounding seven others. The shooter was stopped when five church members restrained him.

January 8, 2011, Tucson, AZ, Jared Lee Loughner, 22, killed 6 (including a federal judge and civilians ranging in age from 9 to 79) and wounded 13 (including US Rep. Gabriel Giffords) at an outdoor constituent meet-and-greet at a Tucson grocery store. He first shot Rep. Giffords in the head from about three feet away and then turned to the crowd, firing over 30 rounds in just 15 seconds, with a Glock 19 9mm semiautomatic pistol equipped with a 33-round large capacity ammunition magazine. Loughner was tackled by a wounded 74-year-old retired US Army Colonel while attempting to reload his firearm with another large capacity ammunition magazine while a 61-year-old woman grabbed the magazine.

On August 15, 2012, a gunman attempting to enter the Family Research Council’s Washington, D.C. headquarters shot a security guard in the arm. The 46-year-old injured guard helped wrestled the gunman to the ground until police arrived and placed the gunman under arrest.

On January 9, 2013, a 16-year-old boy armed with a shotgun opened fire in a California high school classroom on Thursday, critically wounding a fellow student and shooting at another before a teacher and a campus supervisor talked him into surrendering the weapon.

There are very few publicized instances of armed citizens, who are not current or former military or police, successfully intervening to stop a massacre.

In 1997, a disturbed high-school student named Luke Woodham stabbed his mother and then shot and killed two people at Pearl High School in Pearl, Mississippi. He then began driving toward a nearby junior high to continue his shooting spree, but the assistant principal of the high school, Joel Myrick, a US Army Reserve Commander, aimed a pistol he kept in his truck at Woodham, causing him to veer off the road. Myrick then put his pistol to Woodham’s neck and disarmed him.

On January 16, 2002, a disgruntled former student at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia, had killed three people, including the school’s dean, when two students, both off-duty law-enforcement officers, retrieved their weapons and pointed them at the shooter, who ended his killing spree and surrendered.

In December 2007, a man armed with a semiautomatic rifle and two pistols entered the New Life Church in Colorado Springs and killed two teenage girls before a church member, Jeanne Assam – a former Minneapolis police officer and a volunteer church security guard – shot and wounded the gunman and kept him pinned, who then killed himself. (The hero later came out as a Lesbian and was thrown out the New Life Church.)

Mass killers stopped by unarmed civilians: 1995 City of Industry CA postal shootings, 1985 Springfield PA shopping mall shootings, 1998 Springfield OR Thurston High School shootings, 1993 Long Island Railroad shootings, 2011 Tucson AZ Giffords shootings, 2012 Washington DC Family Research Council shootings.

Mass killers stopped by unarmed civilians while trying to change magazines: 1998 Springfield OR Thurston High School shootings, 1993 Long Island Railroad shootings, 2011 Tucson AZ Giffords shooting.

Potential victims who hid or escaped mass shootings during reloading: Columbine High School (1999), Northern Illinois University (2008), Sandy Hook Elementary School (2012).

by Robert Riversong: may be reproduced only with attribution for non-commercial purposes


See also:

Lead, Crime & Societal Breakdown – A Cautionary Tale of Unintended Consequences

Guns, Race, the Law & Public Opinion – The Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman Case

Ceremonial Violence – School Rampage Shootings

The Isla Vista Rampage & The Abuse of Tragedy for Ideological Agendas

The NRA Story: From Rifle Club to Extremist Gun Rights Lobby: How the National Rifle Association evolved from a Shooting Club to a Terrorist Organization

District of Columbia v. Heller – A Radical Decision that Created a Middle Path

The Real Second Amendment

Guns In America – Just the Facts


3 Responses to “The Guns of Columbine”

  1. aidan bonds said

    Thank youuuuu!

  2. Hambone said

    Searching for information when I came across this article. Lots of good information. Besides multiple references to the same incidents, one problem is I don’t see much information about concealed carry permit holders with a gun being present during the incidents, except the couple you cited where one didn’t have any effect and the other where the permit holder was wounded. Obviously shootings would end in some manner even if no one with a CCP was present, so pointing that out multiple times like a CCP has little influence would make sense if no one with a CCP was there. It would also be nice to know the odds of someone with a CCP being present during a shooting (i.e., how many people actually have one in those areas?). Another thing not mentioned is that in many areas you can obtain a gun and a CCP with no gun training or safety course whatsoever. A big problem. I’m pro-gun, but I’m not a supporter of all these people running around with no training, especially with a CCP. That scares me.

    Lastly, as noted in your article, people doing a shooting are going to use the best tool for the job. People owning guns that want to commit suicide aren’t going to slit their wrists. Thus, gun related suicide would be higher with gun owners, that makes sense. Your article implies guns are resulting in higher suicides. That makes sense if you mean other types of suicide have much higher failure rates, so less guns means more failed suicides. In that case it would be worth noting how many people with failed non-gun suicides actually kill themselves later without a gun. If that stat is very high, then the gun suicide argument doesn’t hold water.

  3. Riversong said


    As seems to be the case with almost everyone who describes themselves as “pro-gun”, your comment indicates that you are less than rational when it comes to the epidemic of gun-related violence in the United States.

    I included just a tiny amount of the science on gun violence here to offer an overview of the problem. My article “implies” nothing – it states what the science has shown, which is that private ownership of firearms makes households and individuals significantly less safe and does not offer protection, either of the individual or of society, during active shootings or mass public murders.

    Here’s my typical response to those who follow the NRA’s propaganda claim that more concealed carry permits makes America a safer place:

    The Gun-Free Zone Myth

    There is no evidence that mass killers select locations based on gun policy, or that lawful gun owners have been able to intervene to stop these attacks.

    Among 62 mass shootings over the last 30 years, not a single case includes evidence that the killer chose to target a place because it banned guns.

    An FBI study of 160 active shootings (defined as a shooter actively attempting to kill people in a populated area) between 2000 and 2013 shows that of the shootings that occurred in commercial or educational areas, the shooter had some relationship with the area in 63% of the cases.

    Of the 39 shootings in the study that occurred in educational environments, 31 of the shooters (79%) had some relationship with the school (27 were current or former students). Out of 23 businesses with no pedestrian traffic (i.e., private offices rather than stores) where shootings occurred, 22 of the shooters (96%) were current or former employees. These shooters are overwhelmingly motivated by some grievance rather than a desire to maximize casualties, which makes it highly unlikely that a gun-free policy had any bearing on the choice of target.

    Of the 65 shootings in open spaces and businesses with pedestrian traffic, at least 25 occurred in areas permitting firearms.

    The report also found that of the 160 incidents, only one active shooting was stopped by a concealed-carry license holder: a US Marine. In comparison, 21 were stopped by unarmed civilians.

    A study that examined every mass killing with a firearm between January 2009 and July 2014, found that of the 33 incidents that occurred in public places, 16 (almost half) took place in part or wholly within areas where guns could be legally carried. Two more incidents occurred where an armed guard or police were in the immediate vicinity.

    A 2002 study, “The Impact of Right-to-Carry Concealed Firearm Laws on Mass Public Shootings”, published in Homicide Studies, evaluated Right To Carry laws in 25 states from 1977 to 1999, and concluded that “RTC laws have no effect on mass public shootings at all”.

    In fact, a 2017 study by researchers at Stanford University found that, 10 years after enacting these RTC laws, states experienced a 13% to 15% rise in violent crimes.

    Veteran FBI, ATF, and police officials say that an armed citizen opening fire against an attacker in a public place is very likely to make matters worse. Law enforcement agents train rigorously for stopping active shooters, they say, a task that requires extraordinary skills honed under acute duress.

    When an armed civilian does attempt to intervene, more often than not they are shot or killed. In the three mass shootings in which a legally armed bystander tried to intervene (2005 shopping mall shooting in Tacoma, Washington, 2005 courthouse shooting in Tyler, Texas, and 2014 WalMart shooting in Las Vegas) all the interveners were shot. In the courthouse case, the attempted hero was a firearms instructor. He and the WalMart defender died, while the other man survived after a long coma.

    But in seven mass shootings, unarmed bystanders as old as 74 successfully stopped the rampage (1985 Springfield PA shopping mall shootings, 1993 Long Island Railroad shootings, 1995 City of Industry CA postal shootings, 1998 Springfield OR Thurston High School shootings, 2011 Tucson AZ Giffords shootings, 2012 Washington DC Family Research Council shootings, and 2014 Seattle Pacific University shooting).

    Ironically, in the Tucson incident, licensed-to-carry gun owner Joe Zamudio almost shot one of the unarmed heroes, mistaking him for the shooter. “I was really lucky,” Zamudio said later in an interview with Fox and Friends. “I could have easily done the wrong thing and hurt a lot of people.”

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