The following information is an excerpt from Inside School Shootings: What We Have Learned.

What Have We Learned About the Shooters?

Several months after the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, my 7-year-old son asked me if I thought something like that could happen at his school, which happens to be a private Catholic school in my home city. I assured him that nothing like that would ever happen here and that even if a bad guy did get into his school, our police department was so good and so fast that they would stop the bad guy before he hurt anyone. Of course, I was lying to him.

I feel a bit more confident in my answers when I assure my son that terrorists will never again take over airplanes and fly them into buildings. But for that answer, I have a bit more to fall back on, considering the response the nation took after 9/11 compared to its response after Newtown. After 9/11, the U.S. met the threat by installing sophisticated body scanners at airports, hardening cockpit doors with impenetrable steel, creating an Armed Pilot program and expanding the armed Air Marshal program. The terrorists of 9/11 were fairly confident that if they couldn’t bluff their way into the cockpit, they’d be able to breach the door, where they’d find a defenseless crew tucked into their very own “gun-free zone.”

Today, Al-Qaeda and ISIS know that even if a cockpit door could be breached (however unlikely), the terrorist’s last memory might well be a muzzle flash as an armed pilot shoots him in the face. A 9/11 response was needed after Newtown, but today, most of our schools remain as unprotected as they were the day before the Newtown tragedy — demonstrated in February 2018 as 17 students and faculty members were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Proposed solutions range from banning AR-15s and limiting magazine capacity to no more than 10 rounds to creating an armed teacher program and eliminating “gun-free zones.” Following, I’ll be looking at each of those proposed solutions in great detail, and I’ll also look at whether victim response has affected the outcome of any shooting (positively or negatively). I’ll summarize this article with a four-point plan designed to eliminate the scourge of these murderers once and for all.

To start, let’s take a look at the magazine-capacity argument.

Is Magazine Capacity the Real Killer?

It seems that even before the blood of mass shootings dries, the anti-gun movement renews its rallying cry that the reason these monsters are able to murder so many victims in a short period of time is because of the rate of fire enabled by magazine capacities larger than five or 10 rounds. And let’s not forget the dreaded semi-automatic firearms. So that begs the question: Exactly how many rounds can be fired per minute when using magazine capacities of five rounds, 10 rounds or 30 rounds? Would a smaller magazine size have affected the outcome at any mass shooting?

To answer that first question, let’s look at the theoretical maximum rate of fire attainable with three different-sized magazines. The table below shows how many rounds can be fired per minute using a moderate rate of fire of two rounds per second and a moderate magazine change rate of three seconds. I’ll add that someone with practice would be able to fire at about twice this rate.

A red, black and white chart showing the relationship between magazine capacity and how many rounds can be fired from a rifle over the course of one minute.

The table above shows how many rounds can be fired per minute with a moderate rate of fire of two rounds per second and moderate reload rate of three seconds per magazine change. An experienced shooter would be able to fire at approximately twice this rate.

As you can see, reducing a magazine capacity by two-thirds doesn’t reduce the rate of fire by two-thirds. It simply means that more magazine changes are required per minute. The actual reduction in rate of fire when going from a 30-round magazine to a 10-round magazine is about 25 percent.

Having those baseline numbers, the “it’s the magazine” crowd would have a strong argument if it could be demonstrated that mass shooters were firing at a rate of fire of 100 rounds per minute or more. Unfortunately for them, the facts don’t support that argument. The next table shows the actual rate of fire in the five most notorious school shootings, including the most recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

A chart comparing the fatalities, number of shots fired, incident length and average rounds per minute of the school shooting incidents at Parkland, FL; Blacksburg, VA; Newton, CT; Columbine, CO; and Roseburg, OR.

The table above compares the duration, average rate of fire and lethality of several school shooting incidents.

In every single case, the shooters were using a rate of fire far below the theoretical limit of even five-round magazines. That same rate of fire is reflected in other mass shootings outside of schools, including those in San Bernardino, Fort Hood, Aurora and Charleston. In fact, only one single mass shooter in history has even approached the theoretical limit of 30-round magazines.

In October 2017, a mass-shooter fired 1,100 rounds in 10 minutes from an elevated position overlooking the Las Vegas strip with the aid of a bump stock, designed to mimic the speed of automatic fire. Due to the use of that device and the fact that he was firing from an elevated position at a crowd of more than 13,000 people, this shooting tends to fit into its own category. In fact, it might remain a category of one. The Trump administration directed the Justice Department to ban bump stocks and other devices that allow semi-automatic firearms to mimic automatic fire. The federal ban took effect on March 26, 2019.

What We’ve Learned

Let’s state these facts with a little perspective. The Newtown shooter fired at a rate of no faster than a 150-year-old lever-action Henry rifle, popular among Union soldiers during the Civil War, even though he had ten 30-round magazines and an AR-15. The Fort Hood shooter was a third slower than that, while the Virginia Tech shooter and the Parkland shooter were 50 percent slower. Even the San Bernardino shooters, who carried AR-15s and 30-round magazines, fired at a rate no faster than one round every 3.3 seconds, which is 40 percent slower than the lever-action Henry. The Aurora theater shooter fired at a rate no faster than a 170-year-old, single-shot Sharps rifle, developed 13 years before the Civil War began, even though he had a 100-round magazine. Keep in mind, the Sharps rifle has a capacity of one round, or 99 rounds fewer than the shooter had in his magazine. The Columbine shooters fired at a rate no faster than the 240-year-old muzzle-loading flintlock Kentucky rifle favored by the American patriots in the Revolutionary War, while the Umpqua Community College shooter was even slower than that.

A chart comparing the fatalities, number of shots fired, incident length and average rounds per minute of the active shooter incidents at San Bernadino, CA; Killeen, TX; Aurora, CO; and Columbia, SC.

This table also compares the duration, average rate of fire and lethality of various active-shooter incidents.

So, here’s the problem with the magazine-capacity argument: These killers are not using a high rate of fire; they’re not even using a moderate rate of fire. Their rate of fire could be described as sluggish, no faster than a lever-action or bolt-action rifle. But that begs the question, why is their rate of fire so slow? The answer is a simple one: When you’re alone with your victims in an enclosed area and you’re the only one with a gun, a rate of fire any faster would only mean misses.

Are AR-15s to Blame?

When a mass shooter chooses an AR-15 as the firearm of choice, it’s usually referred to as a “high-powered” or “military-style” rifle by the media, implying that it’s more powerful (and more deadly) than more commonly available rifles, such as those used for hunting deer. Let’s find out if that’s correct or if it’s another red herring. The answer might just redefine what the media considers a “high-powered” rifle.

Below, I’ve shown the round fired by the AR-15 alongside the three most popular deer hunting rounds. Which of the four rounds do you think is fired by the AR-15? If you guessed one of the three larger rounds on the right, you’d be wrong. The AR-15 round is actually the smallest round on the far left, which is the Remington .223. The three rounds on the right are the three most popular deer hunting rounds, including the .30-30 Winchester, the .308 Winchester and the .30-06 Springfield, respectively.

A technical illustration of four different calibers of rifle ammunition.

One of the rounds above is the Remington .223 fired by the AR-15. The other three are the most popular deer hunting rounds on the market. Do you know which is which? The answer might just redefine what the media considers to be a “high-powered” rifle.

The fact is, the AR-15 round isn’t just physically smaller but also falls dramatically below those popular deer hunting rounds in kinetic energy (and well below the kinetic energy of a 12-gauge 000 buck shot shell too). I’ll add that a 12-gauge 000 (pronounced “triple-ought”) buckshot fires six to eight projectiles, all 45 percent larger in diameter than a single Remington .223 bullet

Now, I haven’t put this illustration together to make an argument that all ammunition of all types should be banned. Instead, I’m using it as a way of explaining that simply banning one ammunition type or the firearm that shoots that ammunition in the hopes that it will result in less devastation during mass shootings is hopelessly naive. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but any ammunition type or caliber size fired into a human body at close range will have devastating effects.

When more than one round is fired into a victim, the devastation is magnified exponentially. As an example, the Virginia Tech shooter killed many of his victims using what would normally be considered a “plinking” round, or a round normally used for shooting squirrels and other small game. The .22 Long Rifle round is so tiny that most people wouldn’t give it serious consideration as a defensive or offensive round with its 100 foot-pounds of energy (less than 1/12 the energy of the Remington .223). Yet, when fired into a human body at close range, the results will be as fatal as any of the rounds shown or handgun ammunition of any type.

At Virginia Tech, each of the victims was shot at least three times. Of the 30 victims killed in Norris Hall, 28 were shot in the head, including one victim with nine bullets fired to the head. The politicians and gun-control advocates who are telling you that you’ll be safer during a mass shooting if the shooter has 10-round rather than 30-round magazines are the same ones who are implying that you’ll be safer if the AR-15 and its so-called “high-powered” ammunition were removed from the marketplace. My suggestion is that you not buy into that flawed logic and that the solution to ending these mass shootings does not lie in simply getting rid of any firearm type, any ammunition type or any particular magazine size.

Do ‘Gun-Free Zones’ Help or Hurt?

After every mass shooting, gun-rights organizations point the finger at the existence of “gun-free zones,” while gun-control advocates call for even more locations to be declared “gun-free.” So, who is correct? For their part, gun-control advocates have done much to try to dispel the notion that these killers seek out schools or other locations that ban guns. One anti-gun group even tried to dismiss the argument that Fort Hood was a “gun-free zone.” The group claimed that the base police who flooded the area and exchanged fire with the shooter proved that Fort Hood was not a “gun-free zone” after all. But claiming that arriving police means an area isn’t a “gun-free zone” (even though soldiers on base were barred from carrying personal firearms by base policy) is not a valid argument. Instead, let’s look at the data.

Photo from behind two young white females, presumably sisters, walk hand-in-hand toward a red brick school with red tile roof and large windows. Both girls are wearing casual clothing. One is wearing a blue backpack and the other is wearing a pink backpack.The data tells us that since Columbine, and up to and including the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando and the shooting in Parkland, Florida, 50 mass shootings have occurred. Of those, 74 percent of them fell in “gun-free zones,” where civilians were disarmed by state law, school policy, federal law or policy, or by private policy. It’s worth noting that nearly 48 percent of the locations where mass shootings occurred were self-declared “gun-free zones.” No law barred civilians from protecting themselves with firearms but institutional policy did declare such a ban. In most cases, it’s a university or corporate lawyer who suggests the ban as a way of avoiding liability if a shooting or an accident were to occur. But, after looking at the data, those lawyers might want to reevaluate their idea of what liability means.

As mentioned, 74 percent of the mass shootings since Columbine have occurred in “gun-free zones,” but those shootings were responsible for 85 percent of the deaths. That trend in the data clearly indicates that mass shooters actively seek out soft targets while avoiding hardened targets. Signs, school policies, corporate policies, state statutes, glass doors, unlocked doors and unarmed victims do not create hardened targets. What those things create instead is the perfect environment for these deranged individuals to successfully carry out their plans.

In the “gun-free zones” of our nation’s schools, these shooters don’t just believe, they know that a counter-attack will only come from the outside. They know they’ll get a loud and dramatic warning of the upcoming counter-attack as they hear sirens approaching from all directions. Those sirens tell them that they have at least another four minutes or more to kill any remaining victims before police will enter the building. Again, they know that no counter-attack will be launched from within the school walls. It isn’t just what they believe; it’s what they know to be true. And so do we. If we change the environment, we stand a chance at changing their plans.


Read the full version and learn more about school shootings in Inside School Shootings: What We Have Learned.