The same day Texas legislators released a devastating report on indecision and failure among hundreds of police officers during the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a single armed man ended an attack at Greenwood Park Mall in Greenwood, Indiana. It's impossible to avoid comparing the two incidents. Once again, taking responsibility for yourself and assisting others turns out to be a better idea than putting faith in the state.
"Greenwood leaders have used several titles to describe Elisjsha Dicken, the 22-year-old Indiana man who intervened in a mass shooting at the Greenwood Park Mall on Sunday night," write Ryan Martin, Tony Cook, and Dayeon Eom of the Indianapolis Star. "A hero. A good Samaritan, even. Gun-rights advocates have yet another: A good guy with a gun."
Assessments of the performance of 376 police officers at Robb Elementary School are less positive.
"At Robb Elementary, law enforcement responders failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety," according to the July 17 report from Texas legislators. "The first wave of responders to arrive included the chief of the school district police and the commander of the Uvalde Police Department SWAT team. Despite the immediate presence of local law enforcement leaders, there was an unacceptably long period of time before officers breached the classroom, neutralized the attacker, and began rescue efforts."
Dicken intervened within two minutes of the first shot by the 20-year-old murderer. Three innocent people still lost their lives, but the toll could have been much higher.
"The real hero of the day is the citizen that was lawfully carrying a firearm in that food court and was able to stop the shooter almost as soon as he began," Greenwood Police Chief Jim Ison told reporters.
By contrast, police officers in Uvalde dithered for at least 73 minutes as 19 children and two teachers were murdered.
"The law enforcement response to the attack at Robb Elementary on May 24 was an abject failure," commented Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Steven McCraw.
While the report on the Robb Elementary attack emphasized that "Uvalde CISD and its police department failed to implement their active shooter plan and failed to exercise command and control of law enforcement responding to the tragedy," in Indiana, Dicken had no special background. "Police said Dicken learned to shoot from his grandfather and that he had no military or police training," reports WTHR.
Dicken legally carried a pistol without a permit under a "constitutional carry" law that took effect July 1. Technically, he violated the mall's no-weapons policy, but the owners don't seem bothered. They have a statement on their website saying, in part: "We are grateful for the strong response of the first responders, including the heroic actions of the Good Samaritan who stopped the suspect."
The Indiana man was not the first armed regular person to stop a crime. In May, a woman shot a man who opened fire on a crowd in Charleston, West Virginia.
"Instead of running from the threat, she engaged with the threat and saved several lives last night," Charleston Police Department Chief of Detectives Tony Hazelett commented at the time.
In 2020, a man with a pistol killed a gunwoman at a mall in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 2019, church volunteers at West Freeway Church of Christ in Texas shot and killed a man who fired on the congregation. In 2014, a psychiatrist had to shoot a patient who attacked hospital workers in Pennsylvania. It's not difficult to find examples of regular people who successfully defend themselves and others. These reported incidents almost always involve shots fired; I personally know people who ended attacks without discharging a weapon, and then walked away without informing the police to avoid legal hassles.
Unfortunately, it's also easy to find examples of police failure. The "active shooter training" referenced in the Texas legislators' report was supposed to address earlier high-profile deficiencies in law-enforcement response. Police at Columbine in 1999 delayed for 47 deadly minutes. In 2018 in Parkland, Florida, they held off for 58 minutes "marked by no one taking charge, deputies dawdling, false information spreading, communications paralyzed and children stranded with nowhere to hide," according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
This doesn't mean that police always fail "to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety" in the words of the Uvalde report. There are good, dedicated cops out there. Nor does it mean that people taking responsibility for their own lives will always triumph: in 2021, Arvada, Colorado, police officers killed John Hurley after he shot a cop-killer from whom they had been hiding; Manhattan's chief prosecutor initially charged Jose Alba for defending himself from an assailant. But it's all too clear that government employees are unreliable protectors. If we encounter danger, we don't know when they'll appear, or how they'll respond. They don't even have a legal obligation to help us.
"Neither the Constitution, nor state law, impose a general duty upon police officers or other governmental officials to protect individual persons from harm — even when they know the harm will occur," commented Darren L. Hutchinson of the University of Florida School of Law, in 2018. "Police can watch someone attack you, refuse to intervene and not violate the Constitution."
In truth, government institutions are failing every test they face. Public schools lost support when they botched their response to the pandemic and became political battlegrounds. Public health authorities shed credibility with the public and the medical community through lies, contradictions, and ideologically convenient policies. Worse, "a majority of 57% say that the actions of the federal government over the past six months have hurt their family when it comes to their most important concern," finds the Monmouth University Polling Institute. That personal safety is subject to the same factors that cause government to bungle other roles should not be a surprise.
In response to government failure, many people are rediscovering faith in their own efforts for educating their children, keeping their families healthy, and much more. Carrying a weapon and being willing to protect yourself and others is an act of self-reliance, just like homeschooling. Asked earlier this month by Trafalgar Group/Convention of the States* pollsters, "what do you believe would best protect you and your family in the event of a mass shooting?" only 25.1 percent of respondents answered "local police"; 41.8 percent chose "armed citizens."
Taking some responsibility for your life doesn't guarantee success, but Americans are realizing that it's a better bet than placing all your faith in government-employed strangers who often aren't up to the job.
*CORRECTION: This piece originally only cited the Trafalgar Group as the source of the poll.