Ethics Observations On A Massacre Averted

Another day, another psycho tries to mow down strangers! In Springfield, Missouri, a man appearing to be in his 20s  pulled up to a Walmart, and put on body armor. He walked into the store and began pushing a cart around the store, recording himself on his cell phone.  An alert store manager saw a threat and triggered a fire alarm; the Springfield police  responded within three minutes of the call. Police say that the man had tactical weapons  and more than 100 rounds of ammunition When the would-be shooter left through an emergency exit an off-duty firefighter carrying a legally concealed weapon held the man at gunpoint until police arrived. Observations:

  • It won’t be, but this should be regarded as another mass shooting. Only moral luck made it different from El Paso or Dayton. Sometimes the store managers won’t react quickly enough. Sometimes there won’t be a bystander with a gun and the guts and skill to use it.

The important fact is that a crazy individual entered a public place with the intent to commit murder and the means to so it. Whether a particular attempt was or was not successful is irrelevant from a policy perspective.

  • The lesson of this near-miss is not that everyone should have guns. Resorting to the culture of the Old West is not in anyone’s best interests.

Second Amendment advocates make themselves look foolish by constantly falling back on this”solution.”

  • The hysteria-driven blanket coverage of the latest shootings makes mass shootings more likely.

Censoring the facts and basic reporting, as they did in New Zealand, is not an option here, nor should it be, Some basic restraint from cable news, talking heads and politicians, however, is both reasonable and necessary.

  • This isn’t a video-game driven phenomenon, nor a political divide-driven phenomenon, nor even a “too many guns” problem. It is a problem driven by a culture that now elevates mere attention to the equivalent of self-worth, in a nation that holds—and correctly and importantly so— that each individual, in the end, is responsible for his or her own success or failure.

We have discussed this phenomenon in many contexts on Ethics Alarms, ranging from the movie “Fame’s” warped message that the goal of young lives should be to “live forever” through becoming famous, to the reality-show driven delusion that merely being famous signifies anything but luck, and certainly not societal worth. The Sondheim musical “Assassins” posited that Presidential assassins were desperate, shadowy failures in a success-obsessed culture, who not unreasonably determined that murdering a President was the perfect way to rescue their lives from powerlessness and obscurity. The problem with thesis, though it spawned some good songs and thought-provoking drama, is that history doesn’t back it up at all, and the number of assassins and attempted assassins is too small a sample to make any valid generalizations.

  • In today’s hyped  media and information-glutted society, however, the theory makes more sense, except that it is infinitely easier to shoot up a church than kill a President, and social media makes a killer’s manifesto easy to disseminate for maximum news fodder. The Unabomber had to bargain to get his declaration published in the press.

Today a single social media post will do the trick, with fame (infamy, fame, what’s the difference?) to follow,

33 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On A Massacre Averted

  1. He walked in and began pushing a shopping cart…and recorded himself doing so?

    Mass shooter?


    Grandstanding doofus trying to make a splash and generate some internet fame while grossly miscalculating the outcome?

    • He did this in Missouri. He had to know what would happen. He is lucky he wasn’t shot.

      Although we should not require everyone to have a firearm, we should not restrict the ownership to any law-abiding citizen who wishes that responsibility. Legal gun-owners are among the most law-abiding citizens in this country. Remember, the ‘Wild West’ was much safer than Chicago or Baltimore, cities with fairly strict gun control.

      • I mean, still the question stands:

        Mass shooter


        Grandstanding doofus?

        His first act on entering Walmart was to get a shopping cart and push it around while recording himself…

        • … while in possession of a loaded rifle and another gun, with over 100 rounds of ammo

          Body armor and camo fatigues completed his ensemble. Suspicious, to say the least. That he left by an emergency exit might show he realized his target rich environment had dried up.

          Still, Missouri is an open carry state for rifles, so the grand standing hypothesis is possible… maybe he was just that stupid?

          • That he left by an emergency exit might show he realized his target rich environment had dried up.

            Or that he heard a fire alarm going off…

        • Yes, but either way, he should have known what was going to happen. The way he was dressed, he was either trying to be a mass shooter, cause panic over people who thought he was going to be a mass shooter, or he was trying to impersonate law enforcement. The latter possibility is another good reason to demilitarize the look of our current police officers.

          I think the police should be wearing this body armor

          not this:

          The former provides better protection, is cooler, and allows for a more civilian-police look than the latter.

        • I had heard on NPR that he had posted on Facebook about being angry that Walmart would not sell him (a 20 year old) a rifle, but that no one would bat an eye if he just walked in with one.

          “Gandstanding doofus” would be my answer.

        • Michael, your point is well taken. The question remains, what charges can be filed against him if the weapon was lawfully purchased and tbe state is open carry?

          Unless he makes a threat he cannot be charged with domestic terrorism. Maybe that is exactly the point he was trying to make in an attempt to show how unreasonably easy and legal it is to walk into Wal Mart with a semi automatic weapon and loads of ammo.

          If he is trying to prove a point this is the equivalent of yelling fire in crowded theatre

          • Valid points, I don’t disagree with anyone who has responded to me here, I just don’t think the kid showed up with any intent to shoot anyone. Regardless of whether or not he accurately assessed the likely outcome.

  2. The important fact is that a crazy individual entered a public place with the intent to commit murder and the means to so it.

    The only solution that I see is to deploy the Army to public places so that they can protect us.

        • Check out the Posse Comitatus Act. It’s illegal to use the Army for normal law enforcement. The president would have to certify that there was an insurrection or some such thing that the state and local authorities were thus not able to keep order.

          As I read the history of the act, it seems to be a reaction to the combination of federal troops occupying the former Confederate states after the Civil War, along with federal troops being used to suppress the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.

          Not really a business we want the U.S. Army to be involved in. Now technically, the Navy and Marine Corps aren’t covered by the act. Perhaps we can have a carrier battle group deployed to the Mississippi, or a Marine Expeditionary Force storm the Rio Grande…..

  3. This is at root a recent obsession with being liked. They aren’t liked enough, so they will settle for feared, as long as they’re remembered.

    I want to be liked too, and it’s a good day when I get any feedback on my stories. I’ve even become more relaxed about bad feedback as long as they say why. But being ignored doesn’t justify anything worse than grumbling,

    I don’t think the media should not cover it, but there should be an upper limit. Why can’t they ‘obsess’ about good news for a week? Reducing divisive, angry topics to only 10 minutes, and have more people being friendly, supporting, goodwill topics, and useful information. (no sliding biased teachable moments on divisive issues) I’d bet that show would be really popular as I cannot stand news shows for a long time now. I’d give my last dollar to crowdfund a pilot that does not emphasize the angst. Angst belongs in soap operas, not in everything.

  4. 1) So what exactly did he do that was illegal? Does his state have laws making it illegal to open carry or wear body armor in a public place.

    2) I dont understand what the wild west argument is and how it makes any one look foolish. I dont know about everyone having a gun being a good idea but certainly getting rid of gun free zones and allowing an armed citizenry would do a great deal to limit the destructive potential of mass shooters. Pretty much every mass shooting takes place in private and public spaces (schools, business, private-sector festivals/gatherings, etc.) where citizens are not allowed to carry guns and security is light. The antidote to wolves has always been more sheepdogs not more shepherds.

    • Open carry is legal in MO. Nothing about what he wore, his 100 rounds of ammo, or his weapons were illegal. His actions 5 days after a mass shooter did the same thing, then opened fire, are beyond stupid. Maybe he just suited up to grab some snacks and bread, but his judgment was poor in that case.
      I think his actions were the gun-toting equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater. I support open and concealed carry, but I also support not being a moron about it. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Regardless of his actual intent, I think the manager and the fireman acted appropriately and wisely.

        • The internet ate my last comment but whatev, it just gave me the chance to be succinct here.

          Wrong. Shouting fire in a crowded theater is unethical because it creates an unjustified panic in otherwise reasonable and prudent people. In the US, both as a matter of common practice and case law, simply carrying a firearm is not sufficient evidence of a threat. It’s only threatening to those that are unreasonable or imprudent, but fortunately they are not our societies barometer of right and wrong. Remember that next time a terrorist bombs a cartoonist who drew Mohamed.

          Shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater? More like striking a match in a theater full of people who recently heard about a theater fire. Their panic is unreasonable. No sir, this is the gun toting equivalent of the hecklers veto.

          • If he was just carrying a gun, I’d agree. I carry one every day. However, I do not walk into my local Walmart with an AR or AK strapped to my back, 100 rounds of ammo, while wear black tactical gear and body armour. He absolutely intended to create panic with his attire, actions, and choice of weapon. To argue otherwise weakens 2A defenses and is blatantly dishonest.

            • If you think it’s dishonest then you probably haven’t learned about open carry advocates and the legal and reasonable work they do. Not my cup of tea, personally, but certainly not a bad-faith argument fam.

          • I find it difficult to take that analysis seriously. There was just a shooting in a Walmart. The individual dresses provocatively and appears to be recording himself, while walking through a Walmart. By Supreme Court standards, that alone would justify a police stop. It is either intentionally or negligently designed to cause alarm. Remember the kids with the cardboard fin in Jaws? Same thing. Or like crying fire falsely in a crowded space.

            • How do you figure sports fan? Recording yourself somehow translates his firearm and bog-standard firearms accessories into a reasonable threat? I don’t think that reaches the Supreme Court standard of a threat – not by half. Talking to your phone and camera is part and parcel with everyday modern life.

              If lightning strikes someone on a cloudy day the reasonable person would not then assume that all cloudy days are lightning strike killers. The fact that there was a shooting in similar situation does not change the reasonable person’s interpretation of what constitutes a threat and is therefore irrelevant. By all accounts the dude was shopping and doing nothing illegal, threatening, or even dangerous.

              Literally just this morning I had a doctors appointment and the guy sitting in front of me in the lobby was wearing shorts that exposed the lower half of his legs and how they were covered in Aryan brotherhood tattoos. I didn’t feel the least bit threatened for me or my definitely-not-white girlfriend. Why? Because he wasn’t doing anything wrong or threatening. The mere presence of someone who has hateful and violent ideologies is not sufficient reason to claim a threat; homeboy has to actually be threatening. Likewise, simply having a firearms, and bog-standard firearms accessories, and talking to your phone is not a threat. Waving your gun around, raving like a madman while armed, actually walking up to people and threatening them, are threats all day and everyday. Shopping while armed, regardless of how well armed, is not a threat by historical and legal standards.

              • I wasn’t talking about the definition of threat. This is a Terry stop type situation, meaning reasonable suspicion that would justify a stop. SCOTUS has held that police must have “specific and articulable facts” that indicate the person to be stopped is or is about to be engaged in criminal activity, depending on the “totality of the circumstances”. The Supreme Court concluded it is decided on a case-by-case basis, built out of a combination of facts, each of which would, in itself, not be enough justification for the stop.

                If you want to argue that the alleged gunman, if he wasn’t going to start shooting, wasn’t deliberately trying to evoke the image of a potential shooter, good luck. You’re just wrong. After two mass shootings and one in a Walmart, not only would a Terry-type stop be upheld, it would be negligence NOT to check the guy out.

                • That’s not based on fact or the currently available evidence at all. 2nd Amendment open carry protesters do shit like this all the time and there intent is to literally not cause panics by exposing people to safe open carry. Hell back in Obamas administration a bunch of 2A open carry guys followed him around some hick town with rifles, flaks, and mags and they weren’t arrested or charged – I’m not even sure they were terry stopped. Unless this guy specifically said that he was trying to cause a panic (and to my knowledge he hasn’t) then youre fabricating certainty where none exists.

                  Likewise a terry stop is reasonable and ethical. This guy was arrested and is currently being prosecuted which is not reasonable, ethical, or even legal given the facts that we have.

      • How so? Shouting fire in a crowded theater when there is no fire is clearly unethical because it would send any reasonable and prudent person into an unjustifiable panic.

        Carrying a gun in public, is not, nor has it ever been in either common practice or US case law sufficient evidence of a threat of violence. Most people don’t know this, but a it’s why Police officers cannot legally disarm someone who simply carries a weapon – they also have to be doing something suspicious (like pacing in agitated manner in front of a building) or dangerous (like pointing it at people).

        By no account was this guy doing anything other than shopping. Weird? Sure. Likely to cause a panic in a reasonable and prudent person? No. Only imprudent or those dominated by emotional impulses. Stupid because of the likely result? Yes, but then so what? The alternative is to allow the unreasonable and emotionally invested to wield a very powerful and unethical hecklers veto.

        No sir, this is nothing like shouting fire in a crowded theater. It’s more like striking a match in a theater full of people who had recently been in a theater fire. But of course the emotionally distressed are not the barometer of what’s reasonable and ethical and the reactions of that same group of people does not ethically validate a hecklers veto.

    • You understand that there’s a difference between “no gun zones,” which are useless, and the “if everyone carried a gun, we would be much safer” argument, though. Right?

      • You understand that mutually assured destruction has the ironic effect of reducing violence right? The advent of nuclear weapons is the single greatest contributor to world peace in human history – it has single handedly destroyed large nation state wars. Compare the combined death toll of all wars from 1945 to 2019 to the equivalent time range from 1871 to 1945 and see an absolutely shocking difference.

        To bring that from the nation state scale down to the individual scale, compare the violent crime rate in high gun ownership cities to the violent crime rates in low gun ownership cities. Again, those areas with high gun ownership rates have much lower rates of violent crime. The trend is only broken in high population density cities of a certain size. Outside of urban cities the gun ownership rates sky rocket and the gun crime rates fall.

        People are less likely to shoot other people if other people can shoot back. People are less likely to be able to kill many people when many people can shoot back. The idea that “if everyone carried a gun the world would be much safer” is based soundly in the land of historical precedent, fact, and reason my friend.

        The only way it becomes stupid is if you carry it to unreasonable extremes like thinking all the crazy people will have guns (current mental health checks work as well as constitutionally possible) or people who lack the mental capacity to understand their use and ramifications (again, current mental health checks work as well as constitutionally possible). Every now and again one will get through sure but the over all rate and severity will inarguably go down.

        • I live in an open carry state, and support open carry, although I personally prefer conceal carry. This “shoppers” antics were intended to cause panic. Ethical gun rights activists would not dress like a mass shooter, carry a similar weapon, and go to the same type of business 5 days after a mass shooting. You keep saying shoppers in that store, the manager, and even the off duty fireman were unreasonable people for being concerned. I’d say they have the IQ of a fence post if they weren’t concerned. I don’t think it is unreasonable to worry about a copycat shooter, especially now. Neither you nor I were there, so it’s impossible for us to say whether or not he acted in a way that appeared threatening. Although his actions may not be illegal, they were unethical, and very well could have gotten him killed. It’s evident we aren’t going to agree on this, but I stand by my previous statement that this is the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater. I think both the manager and the firefighter acted in a reasonable and ethical manner to assure public safety when the “shoppers” intentions were suspicious and unclear.

    • Ooops. Sorry. That was from another ‘massacre averted’. I can’t find any story today for such a averted massacre. Please erase the above, and this, to avoid confusion.

  5. As far as I can tell, nobody actually committed a crime. Missouri is an open carry state, and unless the Wal-Mart was marked as a firearm free zone, then he is legally allowed to open carry a firearm. Now, just because something is legal does not mean that someone should do that thing. The man’s actions here are very idiotic. The concealed firearm carrier, while acting in what he thought was the best option, did have time to read the situation. He might have figured out something strange was happening. It doesn’t make sense for someone who wants to kill people to walk in with a slung rifle, phone recording in one hand, shopping cart in the other. The whole situation should not have happened. The blame would lie squarely on the man who open carried his rifle. If more information comes out, then I might have to change my analysis. But this seems to be a very stupid situation where the man carrying the rifle was fortunate that the off duty firefighter didn’t shoot him down.

  6. Yeah, this sounds much more like a 2nd amendment audit than an averted mass shooting. It is not unreasonable for people to have been freaked out and even react in the way that they did, but unless there is more to this story, I don’t see what this guy is going to be legit charged with.

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