Reflecting on the Seattle Pacific University Shooting

Last week, Jon Meis, an engineering student at Seattle Pacific University made headlines after he ended what could have been a deadlier shooting spree at the Christian school. After waiting for a reload-induced lull in the shooter’s activity, Meis pepper sprayed the assailant and proceeded to tackle him while other students disarmed the criminal. Rightfully so, Meis has been hailed as a hero as there can be no doubt that his coolness under unimaginable pressure was impressive. After a few days have passed and more details have emerged, we can now start to reflect on what happened at the school.

Perhaps the most loudly reported aspect of the event is that the shooter was subdued while reloading. From what has been reported, Meis tackled him as he attempted to load more shells into the shotgun being used in the attack. Gun prohibitionists have emphatically declared the need for magazine capacity limits and are currently using this episode as rationale for such cries. While such claims may seem reasonable on the surface, history has shown that situations where shooters are actually subdued while reloading are very rare. We need only look back to last year when the Naval Yard shooting in Washington D.C. left 12 dead. In that case, the shooter also used a shotgun with low capacity. At Columbine in 1999, the shooters reloaded a total of 13 times, only to be outdone by the Virginia Tech shooter in 2007 at 17 reloads. In both of these cases, the shooters made use of low capacity magazines to carry out their crimes. Similarly, according to the investigation following the Newtown incident in 2012, Adam Lanza reloaded frequently, leaving some magazines over half full. In California a few weeks ago, the angry “beta-male” carried as many as 40 low capacity magazines and managed to reload while driving.

To look at this history and say that banning magazines of certain arbitrary capacities will make any difference is downright ridiculous. Each year we see hard-left states attempting to push their capacity limits lower and lower because the previous restrictions simply do not work. At the same time, they put peaceable gun-owners at more and more of a disadvantage as they undermine the effectiveness of the firearm as a defensive tool against those who have no respect for the law. Whether the shooter was reloading the magazine or attempting to pump another round into the chamber is only one minor detail in what was a complete lapse of situational awareness. Had he maintained awareness of his surroundings, he could have gone on with his crime unimpeded. Fortunately, Meis was familiar enough with firearms and self defense tactics that he was able to subdue the assailant.

Secondly, anti-gun groups have pointed out that pepper spray was as effective as a firearm in this instance and have lambasted the NRA for Wayne LaPierre’s 2012 claim that, “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. While technically true, these groups rely too heavily on this single instance to make their case. Many gun owners will agree that the NRA went a bit far to say that the “only” way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to match his level of force. However, most of the time a firearm is most certainly the best way to eliminate such a threat. Once again, Meis’ situational awareness allowed him to use the only tool at his disposal to end the attack.

Lastly, both Colion Noir and the NRA have reported that Meis follows several firearms companies and pages on his social media accounts. He has since locked down most of his Facebook profile, but it is fairly clear that Jon is a gun enthusiast. While getting in a tizzy about what he does and does not like would be counterproductive, there is a lesson here. Despite what prohibitionists might say about gun owners, there is a certain mindset that many of us hold. We tend to maintain a higher level of awareness when it comes to our surroundings and we understand that the firearm is simply one of the tools we might have at our disposal should the need arise. While a firearm may help to mask certain physical disadvantages, there is no substitute for good planning and sound tactics. This is why many enthusiasts take varied training courses in addition to simple plinking on the range. Mr. Meis clearly understands various facets of self-defense and used the only tool he could reasonably carry at the time to help offset the shooter’s physical advantage. However, it was his knowledge of the shooter’s firearm and his ability to quickly assess the situation that saved lives.

There can be no doubt; the incident last week at Seattle Pacific University was tragic. However, it should serve as an eye opener for all of us. No, we do not need to ban certain magazines or make it illegal to carry a firearm on college campuses. Numerous incidents have already supplied noteworthy counterarguments to such proposals. Instead, we should take a moment to ponder how we would act in such a scenario. What tools would we have at our disposal? Have we properly trained ourselves to assess potentially violent situations? How can we catch a potential attacker while his/her awareness is down? Take a moment to ponder these issues. It may well be the difference between life and death.

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4 thoughts on “Reflecting on the Seattle Pacific University Shooting

  1. This is a pretty thoughtful article, but I think you missed the one aspect that mattered most – Ybarra (here we go again) had a well-documented history of mental illness. He bought his weapon from a private individual. Private transactions, and ones at gun shows in some states, do not require a waiting period or a background check. Every gun sale should require both. There has to be a way to inhibit people with known mental health problems from being in a position to hurt themselves and others.

    • Invisible Mikey: While factually speaking you are correct that such transactions (in some states) do not require background checks or waiting periods, you fail to establish how such requirements would be enforced.

      Let’s say for argument that there are 300 million firearms in the US at this moment. Were a law requiring such checks passed tomorrow, there would be absolutely no way to enforce it for transfers of firearms manufactured prior to enactment without registration of all firearms. Given the low estimated participation in the Connecticut registration scheme, it is safe to say that such regulations would fail to achieve the desired goal. FOPA of 1986 also forbids such registries and although it can quite obviously be repealed or amended, do not expect that to be an easy battle

      Quite frankly, given the misguided animosity towards certain types of firearms in certain parts of the country, gun owners do have reason to fear registration. In another recent post I described how Canada has used their registry alongside firearms reclassification to harass firearms enthusiasts and take away firearms that were previously legal. It is incredibly naive to think that something similar to that could not happen here.

      Lastly, I beseech you to explain how waiting periods would prevent violence. California, for example, has a 10 day waiting period and requires background checks for every transaction. They also have a state run registry, assault weapons ban, and approved handguns list. Even with all of this three California cities (Oakland, Stockton, San Bernardino) appear within the top 15 cities (over 100,000 people) in terms of homicide rate. Despite all of this and a one handgun per month policy, some deranged individual (who also had documented mental issues) went on a stabbing, shooting, and vehicular assault spree approximately two weeks ago.

      In light of all this, how can any rational person think that such proposals would work?

      • I really can’t say exactly how to do it. I’m not a legislator. I would have to examine laws put before me to vote on. But there must be SOME way to keep guns out of the hands of individuals we already know are crazy. Yes, they can find other weapons, but guns are easier for even the untrained to kill with.

        The way that waiting periods inhibit violence is by providing time for a paper trail to raise red flags, IF the information is tracked using modern methods. However, background checks in CA (for example), where I used to live, are written on index cards and put into boxes in warehouses. They don’t get digitized or put into a computer database for years! They are meaningless because they are not indexed in a timely fashion. And states keep their own records, not sharing with other states except by specific request. Some sort of national database, as easy to search as phone records, should be established.

        If universal registration is the only way to track when the wrong people buy guns, then on a risk vs benefit basis I have to support it.

      • You don’t have to be a legislator to be educated on the issue. Believe it or not, it is not like the people we vote for are experts when it comes to these things. They vote for things they thing their base will support and will get them reelected, plain and simple.

        To address your concerns, I too hope there is a way to prevent legitimately dangerous individuals from obtaining weapons. However, reality makes this a very difficult proposition. For one, many of the mentally ill who are truly dangerous can also be very manipulative and have enough self-awareness to avoid diagnosis. The only way we will ever adequately address these people is by gaining a better causal understanding of mental illness. Every attempt to bend gun laws to fit these cases is bound to fail. I suppose you could propose an outright ban on firearms, but we do have the Second Amendment and that is not really something you do in a truly free country anyway.

        I find it interesting that you point out how it is easier for the untrained to kill with a firearm. Indeed, that is probably true, depending on the comparison. That said, it is that very property of firearms which make them the preferred self defense tool for many people throughout the world. There is a reason why women are applying for concealed carry licenses in droves. Likewise, I will never forget a man I met at a shooting range in Indiana a couple of years ago. As we sat and chatted about the handguns we were practicing with, he shared with me how important getting his carry license was. Years before, the young man had been the victim of a violent crime and had been unable to defend himself. Fortunately he lived through the episode, but he certainly hasn’t forgotten it. The man has been in a wheelchair since childhood. For him, the gun (and its ease of use) will always be his equalizer. Always remember that this particular sword cuts both ways.

        I must say that it is somewhat ironic that the California system is apparently so bad. Still, it is states’ responsibility to report certain mental health issues to the national NICS database in a timely manner. This is already codified in law. As dubious as their “statistics” may be, Mayors Against Illegal Guns reported last year that Maryland is perhaps the worst in the nation when it comes to mental health reporting. Here we have two states with some of the harshest gun laws in the nation who seem to be outright failing in their duty to report these issues. Surely you can understand my skepticism when they say that they have an interest in public safety. If you want more laws to help prevent these kinds of things from happening, maybe we should start with punishing states who fail to report and give peaceable gun owners a break.

        Lastly, you provided two highly theoretical “solutions” to the issue. It is going to take some actual data to convince any reasonable person that forcing buyers to wait 10 days for their firearm serves any sort of public safety interest. Likewise, previous registration schemes in other parts of the world and in several states here in the US have yielded less than promising results. As I pointed out, California tracks all transactions and several states at least track handgun purchases with no appreciable difference in crime rates. Illinois imposes licensing by way of a Firearm Owner Identification (FOID) card, but crime continues to thrive in Chicago, East Saint Louis, and Springfield. Internationally, Canada’s registry has been prohibitively expensive to the point that they have scrapped parts of it. With all due respect, I think you should reassess that risk versus benefit conclusion you seem to have made.

        I appreciate your willingness to discuss this and hope you gain, at minimum, a better understanding of the pro-gun side of these issues.

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