A Sig Sauer P365 in an inside the waistband holster
A Sig Sauer P365 in an inside the waistband holster / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: How the Indiana Mall Shooting Became a Gun Policy Rorschach Test [Member Exclusive]

In the days following the active shooter incident at Greenwood Park Mall in Indiana, investigators have released clarifying information as to how the attack transpired.

We now know that the armed civilian who intervened in the attack was a 22-year-old Indiana man named Elisjsha Dicken. Dicken stopped the shooter a mere 15 seconds after the attack began when he fired ten rounds from his own handgun, striking the gunman eight times, fatally wounding him.

Three innocent people were tragically killed in the attack, but for the bravery and swift action displayed by Dicken, many others would likely have been killed.

“His actions were nothing short of heroic,” Greenwood Police Chief James Ison said during a news conference on Monday. “He engaged the gunman from quite a distance with a handgun, was very proficient in that, very tactically sound. As he moved to close in on the suspect, he was also motioning for people to exit behind him. He has, to our knowledge, no police training and no military background.”

While Dicken’s actions received praise from local law enforcement and state government officials, some public figures were less willing to praise his actions. A few were even critical, with several leaders of gun-control groups labeling his actions either that of a vigilante or even a criminal.

The divergence is likely because the circumstances surrounding the shooting intersected with several long-standing controversial policies that animate both gun-rights and gun-control advocates. That allowed the opinions of the incident to quickly diverge, revealing much about the state of the gun debate in the process.

Permitless Carry

Gun-control advocates, who have been highly critical of the nationwide trend toward permitless carry in the past, seized on Indiana’s new permitless carry law in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

“A gunman shot and killed 3 people and injured 2 others at a mall in Greenwood, Indiana,” the gun control group Brady tweeted. “This tragedy comes after Indiana repealed its requirement for a permit to carry a handgun in public, which went into effect July 1. More guns in public spaces do not make us safer.”

However, that law did not have any bearing on this particular attack. Indiana’s new permitless carry law applies only to handguns, whereas the Greenwood Park Mall shooter reportedly carried out his attack with an AR-15 style rifle—to say nothing of the obvious illegality of shooting innocent people. In fact, the only effect of the law was that it allowed Dicken to be armed in defense against the attacker. He did not have a permit to carry, but was carrying under the protections of Indiana’s permitless carry scheme.

The National Rifle Association was quick to celebrate that fact while highlighting its own role in making that policy law in Indiana.

“16 days after NRA-backed Constitutional Carry went into effect, a law-abiding 22-year-old stopped a shooter at Greenwood Park Mall in Indiana,” the organization tweeted. “Constitutional Carry saves lives. Half the country has enacted it and NRA led the way.”

Gun-Free Zones

Likewise, Dicken had his firearm on him despite the Greenwood Park Mall’s “no weapons” policy.

Gun-rights supporters pointed to the fact that the shooter still attacked the mall despite its weapons policy, and claimed it as another indictment in the case against so-called gun-free zones. Meanwhile, gun-control advocates saw the good Samaritan as a scofflaw whose heroic deeds should not overshadow a broader need for stronger gun control laws.

“I don’t know who needs to hear this but when a 22-year-old illegally brings a loaded gun into a mall and kills a mass shooter armed with an AR-15 after he already killed three people and wounded others is not a ringing endorsement of our implementation of the Second Amendment,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, wrote in a since-deleted tweet.

It’s worth noting that in Indiana, “no guns allowed” policies and other such signage do not carry the force of law. So, violating the policy is not akin to violating the law. Though, a person could face criminal sanction under trespassing laws if they refuse to leave at the request of a property owner.

In this case, however, it does not appear that the Greenwood Park Mall is interested in pursuing any such recourse against Dicken. Instead, The mall’s property owners put out a statement expressing gratitude for his actions.

“We grieve for the victims of yesterday’s horrific tragedy at Greenwood Park Mall,” a Simon Property Group representative said. “Violence has no place in this or any other community. We are grateful for the strong response of the first responders, including the heroic actions of the good Samaritan who stopped the suspect.”

“Good Guy with a Gun” 

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” has been a long standing shibboleth of the NRA and aligned organizations since the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. So, naturally, in a case where an armed civilian successfully intervened in a shooting, the debate over the sentiment was sure to reemerge.

Gun-control advocates were quick to downplay the significance of armed civilians playing a role in combatting active shooters.

“It is a stroke of luck that a fellow visitor at the mall was able to neutralize the shooter – as we know that multiple studies over numerous years show that the that a ‘good guy with a gun’ is a myth pushed by the gun lobby and that vanishingly few active shooter situations are resolved by armed civilians,” Brady President Kris Brown said in a press release, walking back previous comments implying Dicken was a vigilante.

The most recent FBI annual report on active shooter incidents found that of the 61 documented active shooter incidents in 2021, armed private citizens shot and killed an attacker in four of those incidents. In comparison, the shooter was killed by responding law enforcement officers in 14 of those instances the same year. Another 30 were taken into custody by police.

While it may not be true that a “good guy with a gun” is the only thing to stop active shooters in the past, the Greenwood Park Mall shooting and several other recent incidents highlights that armed bystanders can and do successfully intervene in certain cases.

So, was the armed bystander in this case a hero or vigilante? Were his actions proof of concept that armed civilians can effectively stop mass shooters, or is he a rare exception that should not be focused on in the gun policy debate? As indicated by some of the public responses in the aftermath of the shooting, your view of Elisjsha Dicken and his life-saving actions likely depends on your views on gun policy overall.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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