Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Worse tragedy averted because shopper was armed.

It is a tragedy when someone, for reasons that never really make sense, goes on the rampage and starts killing for no apparent reason. And we can only be glad that someone is able to stop them before more lives are taken and more families are plunged into mourning.

By now the story of the attack Trolley Square shopping mall in Salt Lake City is widespread. An 18-year-old man, armed to the teeth, walked into the mall and just started randomly killing people. Witnesses spoke of the eery “calm” look on his face as he took the life of one person after another.

What prevented the tragedy from getting worse was that another shopper in the mall was armed as well. Ken Hammond, was in a restaurant eating with his pregnant wife when he heard the shots. He told his wife to seek cover and he went to see what was happening. Ken was an off duty police officer from Ogden just visiting the city.

Hammond exchanged shots with the killer and tied him down preventing him from continuing his rampage. Eventually local police officers arrived.

In a shopping mall packed with shoppers for Valentine’s Day a killer like this young man has easy pickings. He can easily kill a couple of dozen people before local police can possibly arrive. The youth, Sulejman Talovic, parked his car in the parking lot walked to the entrance. He immediately shot two people outside, near the entrance. He walked into the mall and then shot a women seconds later and then turned to a card shop filled with people. Within seconds he shot another five people. He fire more rounds and was then confronted by Hammond.

Stopped by armed resistance he had no choice but to delay his attacks and then his plans were full thwarted when Hammond shot and killed him. (Note: The Salt Lake Tribune reported Hammond killed the gunman. The New York Times claims he was killed after police arrived. Either way the killing spree ended when the youth faced armed resistance. See note at bottom.)

Police Chief Chris Burbank says the young man “had one thing on his mind, and that was to kill a large number of people.” He had a backpack full of ammunition, a shotgun and a .38-caliber pistol.

Time magazine reports: “Had the off-duty Ogden police officer, who had a gun but no extra equipment or additional ammunition, not gone after the gunman, the teenager likely would have continued shooting people on his through the mall, [Chief] Burbank said.”

In a situation like this it is simply not possible for police to respond fast enough to prevent several deaths. Within just a few minutes a well-armed killer can kill large numbers of people in a crowded space. The only thing that prevents such violence from continuing for minutes more, with numerous other victims, is if someone in the crowd is armed himself and stops or delays the attack. And that weapon must be carried not locked in a gun case in a car in the parking lot.

Every second of delay saves lives. And we are literally talking seconds here. A good police response time would be a few minutes at best and that will never be good enough. Not because the police are incompetent but simply because it takes time. A couple of minutes with a home break-in or a bank robbery is still often enough to catch and stop the criminal. But when someone is intent on killing large numbers of people, in a confined and crowded space a couple of minutes will never be good enough.

That reality means that the most likely way to stop such an attack is if a killer never knows whether or not his intended victims are able to fire back. It never helps when one disarms the victims in advance by law.

If the image above works you will be able to see how in recent years the right to carry concealed weapons in the United States has proliferated. The map will change every few seconds showing these changes year by year. This change is one of the reasons for the massive decline in crime rates in the US.

(It is hard to tell which newspaper version to accept as to whether Hammond or local police officers shot the killer. In a previous incident at a law school a few years back a student went on a shooting rampage. Luckily this happened in the open and not in a confined, crowded space. Two students ran to their cars and got weapons they owned. When the two armed students confronted the gunman he threw down his weapon and surrendered. In reports on the case the New York Times left out all mention that the students were armed and mysteriously reported that the incident ended when students "tackled" the suspect leaving out the fact that he was disarmed. At that time an investigation of 280 stories showed only four reported the fact that armed students put a stop to the shooting.)

Read an important update to this story here. We uncover why it was that only one shopper in this entire mall was armed.

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