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What Role Can Bystanders, Police Play In Stopping Shooters?

The lengthy police response to a school shooting in Uvalde, Tx., and the death of an armed security guard in last month's Buffalo supermarket attack have drawn fresh scrutiny to a recurring debate: What role should the police and bystanders play in active shooter attacks, and what interventions would best stop the violence? “What stops armed bad guys is armed good guys,” suggested Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) after the Uvalde shooting, echoing many gun rights advocates over the years. Researchers who study active shooter events say it can be difficult to draw broad policy conclusions from individual episodes, the New York Times reports. A review of data from two decades of such attacks by a group at Texas State University reveals patterns in how they unfold, and how hard they are to stop once they have begun.


Most attacks captured in the data were over before law enforcement arrived. Information on police response time is incomplete, but in the available data, it took law enforcement three minutes, on average, to arrive at the scene of an active shooting. Even when law enforcement responds quickly, active shooters can still wound and kill many people. People at the scene did intervene, but in about half of all cases, the attackers committed suicide or simply stopped shooting and fled. “It’s direct, indisputable, empirical evidence that this kind of common claim that ‘the only thing that stops a bad guy with the gun is a good guy with the gun’ is wrong,” said Adam Lankford of the University of Alabama, who has studied mass shootings for more than a decade. Armed bystanders' shooting attackers was not common — 22 cases out of 433. In more than a quarter of episodes, the attackers ended the shootings by turning the guns on themselves, many taking place before the police arrived. About a quarter of shootings ended when the attacker or attackers stopped of their own accord and left the scene, then were apprehended or died by suicide at another location.

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