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Empire State Building Shooting Shows Danger of Using Guns to Stop Gun Violence

Today, gun violence claimed the life of another American outside the Empire State Building. But the muddled and confusing aftermath offers a lesson as to why the preferred conservative response to mass shootings, i.e. arm more citizens, would be disastrous:

A clothing designer who had been fired from a Midtown Manhattan company shot and killed a former co-worker in the shadow of the Empire State Building on Friday morning and was then killed by the police, in a hail of gunfire in which nine bystanders were hurt, the authorities said.

Some of those injured might have been shot by the two police officers, who fired 16 rounds at the gunman, Jeffrey Johnson, 58, said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly — based on the number of people shot and the fact that Mr. Johnson’s gun held only eight rounds.

None of the bystanders’ wounds were life-threatening, Mr. Kelly said.

There were dozens of witnesses and almost as many accounts of what happened. But I think it’s clear that at least some of the bystanders were shot by the police. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a press conference that the assailant tried to shoot the police, and they returned fire. A New York City official later said that Johnson, the assailant, “may have fired one shot at the police officers,” and later said they Johnson didn’t fire anything at them. There were 2 bullets left in his gun, and it only had an eight-round magazine. And they know he fired at least five shots at the man he killed. Surveillance video apparently shows the shooter drawing his gun at the cops, but not firing it.

In other words, in the haze of events where trained police tried to stop a threat, they shot nine people. Like Atrios, I don’t know whether or not they followed protocol, or whether this made sense given the threat in front of them. What I do know is that introducing more guns into the situation caused bystanders to get wounded. That doesn’t mean the police shouldn’t have operated in the manner they did. It means that random people on the street packing heat should not respond to a shooting incident by pulling out their guns and firing away. This is part of the problem, not the solution.

Meanwhile, this wasn’t even the biggest mass shooting in the last day in America, let alone the last week or month. We have this major problem with gun violence in this country, and though a certain ideologically-motivated group wants to shut down that conversation every time another incident occurs, it’s getting harder and harder for the rest of us to do so.

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David Dayen

David Dayen