More guns don't make for a safer society

More guns don't make for a safer society
People sing during a vigil this week in Las Vegas after two police officers and another person were fatally shot by a married couple who, police say, later died in a murder-suicide. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

A good guy with a gun tried to stop a bad guy with a gun. You know, like the NRA preaches. It was a bad move.

The good guy got mowed down by the bad guy's batty wife.


She had been a good woman — one of those "innocent, law abiding" citizens the gun lobby is always exalting — until, like so many, she went bad and started shooting people.

An armed society really isn't a safer society.

The more guns sold, the better for gun dealers and for NRA membership sales. The worse, however, for the truly innocent who get caught in the crossfire of gun violence.

Times articles have detailed what happened in Las Vegas. A young married couple — Jerad and Amanda Miller — went berserk hallucinating about government tyranny, a common enemy of armed radicals. Jerad especially resented his marijuana bust. They decided to launch the revolution.

The pair — loaded with pistols, a shotgun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition — went to a pizzeria and fatally shot two armed policemen calmly eating their lunch. Then they walked to a nearby Wal-Mart, where Jerad fired a shot in the air and warned shoppers to run because cops were coming. "The revolution is about to start," he shouted.

One shopper — Joseph Robert Wilcox, 31 — stood his ground, pulled out a concealed weapon and confronted Jerad. But he hadn't noticed Amanda. She shot him dead.

The legally armed citizen was courageous and noble. It's possible he saved lives by distracting the killers. We'll never know. But, for his own good — and perhaps for others who might have been trapped in a hail of bullets — Wilcox should have beat it out of there.

The wife wound up killing her husband and then herself.

End result: Five armed people, all five dead.

Here's one gun lobby reaction, as quoted by The Times' John M. Glionna: "If this guy Wilcox was a cop, he could have gotten killed just the same," said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America. "You cannot go through life without taking risks. I don't think we can read anything else into this other than to say, 'Darn.' "

Darn? How about: There are too darn many guns out there! Also, some risks aren't worth taking. They may, in fact, increase risks to other people.

There was a bit better ending last week at Seattle Pacific University, where the hero was armed only with pepper spray.

There, a gunman killed one student and wounded three others. When he stopped to reload — meaning he wasn't armed with a high-capacity assault weapon — student Jon Meis pepper-sprayed the shooter and tackled him.

But this already heavily armed nation is heading in the opposite direction.


In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal recently signed a guns-everywhere bill, allowing them to be toted into bars, churches and government buildings.

Even in California, a divided federal appeals court struck down a law that permitted counties to tightly restrict the carrying of concealed weapons in public. Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris is challenging the ruling.

"Are we becoming the society we want to be or something else?" asks Garen Wintemute, director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program. "I think most people don't want to be in a society where people have arms everywhere, particularly since there is no evidence that being armed is a benefit.

"There is evidence of good guys with guns stopping mass shootings, but it happens rarely."

Wintemute adds: "On balance, having a gun in the home doubles the risk of homicide in the home."

One solution to gun violence, the National Rifle Assn. correctly asserts, is to better enforce existing laws. Fine. But that means more thorough universal background checks of gun buyers. And the gun lobby opposes that.

"The man in Las Vegas," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday, "was a felon. He couldn't have bought a gun if he had background checks."

Reid said the Senate may conjure up enough courage to vote again on the issue this year.

Also, the gun lobby insists correctly, a solution is better monitoring of the mentally ill.

In Sacramento, gun rights advocates will have an opportunity — but don't hold your breath — to support legislation introduced in the aftermath of recent mass killings near UC Santa Barbara.

There, the parents of the killer, Elliot Rodger, had raised concerns with law enforcement about their son's mental state. Cops interviewed him, but didn't look for his arsenal, which included 40 fully-loaded 10-round magazines.

A bill, AB 1014, by Assembly members Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara,) would create a "gun violence restraining order" and enable police to seize the weapons of someone considered a threat.

"People are outraged that these kinds of shootings seem to be becoming weekly occurrences," Williams says. But, of course, guns don't kill people. Bullets do.

State Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) has been pushing a bill, SB 53, that would require a background check and license to buy ammunition.

Gov. Jerry Brown has been cool toward the idea, fretting about the inconvenience to gun owners. Hopefully, he'll also consider the inconvenience of being shot. Anyway, De Leon soon will be elected Senate leader and be armed with more political ammo to take on the governor.

"What's scandalous," De Leon says, "is that it's harder to buy allergy medicine, spray paint, cigarettes and a six-pack of beer than it is to purchase a bullet that can maim or kill."

Meanwhile, unless things change, what happened in Vegas won't be staying in Vegas. It will keep proliferating everywhere.