On Sunday, 20-year-old Jonathan Sapirman walked into a Greenwood Park Mall food court in Greenwood, Indiana, carrying a rifle and pistol with access to another rifle and more than 100 rounds of ammunition, according to the New York Times. He killed three people and injured two others and he surely would have killed many more if not for 22-year-old Elisjsha Dicken, who was legally carrying a concealed gun while shopping in the mall with his girlfriend. Dicken shot and killed Sapirman about two minutes into the shooting spree. Dicken is a hero—he’s also a rarity.
Sapirman also had the luxury of being white. We’ll get to why that matters in a second.
“He engaged the gunman from quite a distance with a handgun, was very proficient in that, very tactically sound, and, as he moved to close in on the suspect, he was also motioning for people to exit behind him,” Police Chief Jim Ison said in praising Dicken’s heroism. According to the Associated Press, Ison also mentioned that “many more people would have died last night if not for a responsible armed citizen,” who he also called a “good Samaritan.”
Dicken deserves all of his flowers for saving lives and putting down yet another young white man who had no regard for human life—but we all know where this is going: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”
The NRA predictably went there immediately.
Gun nuts are about to be really annoying behind this story. This is the kind of case they cherry-pick for an anecdotal argument against gun regulation. It doesn’t matter how extremely rare it is that active shooter situations end that way.
It isn’t common for mass shootings to be stopped in such fashion. From 2000 to 2021, fewer than 3% of 433 active attacks in the U.S. ended with a civilian firing back, according to the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University. The researchers define the attacks as one or more people targeting multiple people.
In a quarter of the shootings, the attacker stopped by leaving the area, similar to what happened during the July 4 parade in Highland Park, Illinois, where seven people were killed.
“There’s been this statement: ‘The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.’ That’s factually inaccurate because of the word ‘only,’” said Adam Lankford, a criminal justice expert at the University of Alabama who has written books and research papers about mass shootings.
This is why Second Amendment enthusiasts weren’t able to latch on to the “good guy with a gun” rhetoric when Payton Gendron gunned down 10 Black people in Buffalo, or right after that when Salvador Ramos killed 19 children and two adults in Uvalde (nearly 400 cops with guns responded), or right after that when Robert Crimo III killed seven people and injured numerous others at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois. In fact, the “good guy with a gun” narrative wouldn’t apply to the overwhelming majority of the more than 300 mass shootings that have occurred in 2022.
Then there’s the fact that not everyone gets to be the “good guy with a gun.” To be more specific, Black people are far less likely to be able to take on the role without the risk of being shot by police.
In 2018, Emantic “EJ” Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. was Elisjsha Dicken—or at least he would have been if Alabama police officers didn’t shoot him to death while he was attempting to be a “good guy with a gun.” Bradford, who enlisted in the U.S. Army at the time, was also in a mall guiding people away from a shooter who he attempted to stop with his own legally-purchased gun. After killing Bradford, Alabama authorities blamed him for his own death.
“We can say with certainty Mr. Bradford brandished a gun during the seconds following the gunshots, which instantly heightened the sense of threat to approaching police officers responding to the chaotic scene,” the city of Hoover said in a statement that curiously didn’t include anything about a “good guy with a gun.”
Then there’s the case of Jemel Roberson, who was gunned down by police while subduing a gunman who fired shots into a Chicago nightclub while wearing a uniform with the words “SECURITY” emblazoned on the front.
In both of these cases, the NRA was silent and, for the most part, conservatives fell all over themselves to excuse the cops who shot these heroes.
At the end of the day, the big takeaway from the Indiana mall shooting shouldn’t revolve around the “good guy with a gun.” The takeaway should be the fact that these shootings keep happening. It should be that young men with legal access to guns and the will to take lives indiscriminately keep filling our newsfeeds every month and all America does is spin political rhetoric and fail to do anything meaningful to prevent future mass shootings.