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The armed citizen who used his assault rifle to stop Sunday’s mass murder of 26 Texas churchgoers is acclaimed, rightly, as a hero, but Stephen Willeford is hardly unique. A number of armed American citizens have their firearms to stop or limit mass killings.
The former National Rifle Association instructor who lives next door to the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Spring, Texas, church, picked up his AK-47 after hearing the shots and went to investigate. The confrontation with the shooter, Devin Kelley, Willeford shot him in the leg and the trunk before Kelley dropped his weapon and fled the scene in his SUV.
As horrific as Kelley’s rampage was, it could have been much worse if it wasn’t for Stephen Willeford.
“I thank my God, my Lord, protected me and gave me the skills to do what needed to be done,” Willeford told the local media on Monday. “I wish I could have gotten there faster.”
Willeford has quickly become an example for the pro-gun advocates point to in defense of their argument that the best defense against mass shooting is a better armed and better trained civilian population that is ready to defend itself, always and everywhere.
But – although it is not as common in comparison with the general number of mass-executions in the US – Willeford is definitely not the first “good guy with a gun” to stop a mass shooter is killing spree in the past few years.
The experts disagree on how the number of mass shootings stopped by citizens is counted. Do off-duty police officers count as citizens? What about the military? And how many people should be killed or injured to be considered a mass shooting? But there are a number of incidents over the past 20 years where an armed bystander helped prevent further tragedy.
Here are a few examples of such incidents:
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— In 1997, the assistant director of Mississippi’s Pearl High School, Joel Myrick, the .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol he kept in his truck to keep the 16-year-old Luke Woodham after the teenager was stabbed and clubbed to the death of his mother in the house, and killed two students and wounded and seven at the high school.
— A decade later, in 2007, Matthew Murray killed four people in Colorado Spring church before the bullet through the church, member and volunteer security guard Jeanne Assam.
— Last April, an Uber driver with a concealed-carry permit shot and injured a gunman who opened fire on a crowd of people in Chicago’s Logan Square.
— This September, a messenger in a Tennessee church used his personal firearm to topics of a masked gunman who’s already killed one woman in the church, the parking lot and six others injured.
Gun-rights advocates say that not only these gun-carrying citizens to prove that an armed population can help reduce the death toll of a mass-shooter, but it can also prevent the mass shootings as a whole happens.
“These killers all say that they are focused places where people would not normally carry guns,” John Lott, the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, said. “The hidden-carry acts as a deterrent for these killers and would also stop these shootings from much worse.”
Those in favor of restricting access to firearms, however, suggest that many of these mass shooters have not had access to a gun in the first place given the fact that some of their criminal and mental health records – and that the “good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun” argument is supported by facts or research.
“If having more guns in society worked to discourage shootings, then America would have the lowest rate of gun violence of any developed country,” Avery Gardiner, the co-chairman of the Brady Campaign, said in a statement provided to Fox News. “The myth that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun is not supported by facts or research. The assassin in this mass shooting should never have had access to a gun in the first place, given his criminal record.”
James Jacobs, a professor at New York University School of Law, who has written extensively about the gun laws in the united states, said that there are errors in the arguments of both advocates and opponents of gun control – to find that there are already thousands of weapons in the country that are unaccounted for and that can be easy in the hands of someone who wanted to commit mass murder.
“I’m skeptical about the ability to clamp down on guns. That horse has already left the stable,” says Jacobs. “Most of the people that are very dangerous don’t go to a legal gun dealer. They go on the internet or on the black market or just anybody else buy a gun for them.”
Jacobs added that instead of having a law concerning firearms on a national or even the level of the state, or citizens should be able to carry a gun in public should come down to individual provinces or even communities.
“There is not a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem,” he said. “What works in Alaska and / or rural Wyoming will not work in cities like Chicago or Detroit.”