DA Claims Mobile Phone Obsession Resulted In No One Noticing Guy With Gun On SF Train

from the or,-you-know,-people-keeping-to-themselves dept

The San Francisco Chronicle has the sort of silly story that is all too common from local news organizations these days: making broad claims based on a single anecdote, with no actual evidence to support the thesis. In this case, it’s claiming that people “absorbed” by their devices were to blame for no one noticing a guy brandishing a gun on the SF Muni train a few weeks ago:

A man standing on a crowded Muni train pulls out a .45-caliber pistol.

He raises the gun, pointing it across the aisle, before tucking it back against his side. He draws it out several more times, once using the hand holding the gun to wipe his nose. Dozens of passengers stand and sit just feet away – but none reacts.

Their eyes, focused on smartphones and tablets, don’t lift until the gunman fires a bullet into the back of a San Francisco State student getting off the train.

From there, the article just goes on basically a long rant about the evils of mobile devices and how no one looks at each other any more. To make this claim plausible, it quotes the District Attorney, who claims that this “speaks to a larger dilemma of the digital age.” And then there’s a professor who makes the same argument:

“When you used to go into a public place, you assumed everyone was in that place with you,” said Jack Nasar, an Ohio State University professor in city and regional planning who specializes in environmental psychology. “What happens to public places when everybody is talking on a cell phone? Everyone is somewhere else.

“Someone can take a gun, hold it up, and nobody will notice it.”

This seems pretty damn questionable. While I’m sure it’s true that lots of people get absorbed by looking at their mobile devices, the fact that no one looked at the guy can’t be blamed on mobile devices. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in NY, but I learned from a very young age that you don’t look at people on public transit. You just don’t. It’s rude and, if anything, it’s more likely to provoke a dangerous situation. Over the years, I’ve ridden plenty of public transit systems around the world, and this is pretty typical — and it was typical long before mobile devices came on the scene. In fact, it seems like mobile devices just helped give people something to do rather than stare off into random space.

So, yes, it seems shocking that no one noticed the guy with the gun until he shot and killed someone, but it’s a pretty big leap to automatically blame everyone being on their mobile phones. It seems unlikely that everyone on the train was staring at a mobile device. It seems likely that some were just staring out the window as well. Will the DA and professor Nasar blame windows for destroying public places now too?

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Comments on “DA Claims Mobile Phone Obsession Resulted In No One Noticing Guy With Gun On SF Train”

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33 Comments
Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Typical

Let me ask you this, if you were in an enclosed tin can underground with a mass of other people and someone pulled out a gun, what would you do?

I can tell you exactly what I would do, I would freeze up. I wouldn’t scream, I wouldn’t commit suicide trying to attack the man, I’d just look away in an attempt to not draw attention. Then, when/if I saw him put it away, I would think less of it since it’s perfectly legal to own an carry a gun in the United States.

Same kind of thing did happen to me a few years ago. I was sitting in the parking lot of a 7/11 waiting for a friend to come out. A guy pulled up beside me, stepped out of his car, reached back in and pulled out a gun. He put it in his belt, pulled his coat over it, and walked into the store. Guess what happened. Nothing. If I had panicked and called the cops, it would have just been a waist of everyone’s time. All over something that’s perfectly legal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Typical

In this instance, yeah really not much you can do. Even if you were armed, you can’t exactly pull out a gun and start firing it on a bus/train. It probably would be best to not instigate the gentlemen in any fashion and somehow notify the police when you can.

Granted even if you have a CCW you can’t just pull it out and wave it around, hence the conceal part. So really had you called the police it wouldn’t have been an outrageous thing to do. They stress the importance of not waving your gun around in any CCW class.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Typical

“They stress the importance of not waving your gun around in any CCW class.”

I can openly carry a gun, but I would have to file paperwork and get a license to hide a gun, so I would assume that they just stress not waving it around as apposed to saying it’s illegal. On a side note, I don’t think there are CCW classes in PA.

Ether way, I’d be afraid to call the police. What if the guy overheard me? Texting would be far less noticeable, is there a number to text the police?

I don’t live in NY, is there even cell signal in the subway?

Any way you slice it, I think we’ve collectively shown that the DA’s an idiot.

Alt0 says:

Yeah like as if anyone that did notice the “45 magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world” and was “feeling lucky” they might have said something.
or not

If someone did notice, and even called the cops (with their evil smart phone) the guy was shot as he exited the train. Not much a cop on the platform could have done to stop it anyway.

Maybe, (an I’m stretching here) instead of blaming smartphones and video games, they should spend more time detecting and addressing mental health issues?

Anonymous Coward says:

this is exactly the sort of story that governments and law enforcement agencies are all over! anything that can be used as a means to aid the end of what ever is being touted as bad! if, on the other hand, the guy touting the gun was noticed and then jumped on and disarmed by passengers, i suppose the story would have been either not printed or in a position that made it easy to be ignored!
it’s the same way the entertainment industries get the people they use to go on the offensive for new law enforcement. money is being lost, that means fewer jobs and fewer movies. when reports totally debunk those statements are released, they are strategically positioned so as to be missed or easily ignored!

out_of_the_blue says:

Anecdotal but no actual evidence, eh?

Mike sez: “making broad claims based on a single anecdote, with no actual evidence to support the thesis.”

But the article has this: “Investigators say this scene was captured by a Muni camera on”

SO who do I think has it right? NOT MIKE! He’s definitely wrong on whether there’s “actual evidence”.

This is typical of Mike’s ability to read and comprehend: he sees what wants to and whatever doesn’t fit his notions, he’s blind to. Guess this one triggered his knee-jerk response for whenever mobile phones are blamed.


Mike Masnick on Techdirt: “its typical approach to these things: take something totally out of context, put some hysterical and inaccurate phrasing around it, dump an attention-grabbing headline on it and send it off to the press.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Anecdotal but no actual evidence, eh?

I believe evidence needs to extend beyond simply ‘it happened’, particularly considering the attempt to point at a particular reason. Have they asked everyone on the train after ‘what were you doing instead of looking at the guy with the gun?’ It is also seems to be making the assumption that since noone tried to do anything (and honestly, what could you do) no one noticed the gun in any capacity. Also, there could have been other distractions, not necessarily new technology, and of course, it has to be ascertained if without technology if the result would have been different, or they would simply be absorbed in the evening/morning news, their own conservation, staring at the scenery or even trying to figure out a problem in their head. So, yes there is evidence that maybe something is there, but it has a long way to go before it can be considered evidence to anything.

Ed in Syracuse says:

No you may not look at people on public transit, but you do and should be aware of our surroundings. This is part of a much broader trend of people being unaware. Whether it be a left lane closed sign and several warnings until only the barrels in their lane force them over to this man with a 45. People aren’t paying attention to anything. If they can’t see a barrel in a construction zone or a 45 pistol right next to them how will they ever see what the government is doing to them? They won’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

>He raises the gun, pointing it across the aisle, before tucking it back against his side. He draws it out several more times, once using the hand holding the gun to wipe his nose. Dozens of passengers stand and sit just feet away – but none reacts.

If they were so engrossed in their devices, how is there such a descriptive account of events?

Oh I get it now, it’s just another bullshit storytelling piece of passing blame rather than focusing on the actions of the person that actually broke the law. Gotcha.

Nurlip (profile) says:

Doesn’t anyone else think that if others had looked up at the gunman before the train stopped and saw him holding the gun, the guy probably would’ve shot a bunch of people instead of just one? Not to mention that the security cameras are on the train for more than just reviewing the tapes, they can be actively monitored and apparently the ‘monitors’, if they were in place, didn’t notice the guy with the gun either and that’s their job.

I think he wanted people to look at him, that’s why he kept getting the gun out. As if someone looking at him with his gun out would have been all the provocation he needed to start shooting. Its terrible that he shot and killed someone for no reason but if events had happened differently, a lot more people could’ve been hurt.

What were the people on the train supposed to do even if they had seen the gun?

DB (profile) says:

I saw the story, and thought that it was absurd.

If I saw a guy with a gun on a train, but not actively threatening anyone, I would also pretend that I had something to read or listen to.

Either it’s a benign situation and there is nothing that needs to be done. Or it’s a dangerous one, and doing anything besides remaining calm would escalate the situation.

Hmmm, I might send a text, if I could do it without drawing attention. That would look pretty much like being engaged with a smartphone.

GEMont (profile) says:

Nobody noticed

Funny how nobody noticed the gunman and his gun, but the press has a perfect moment by moment description of the gunman’s various activities and constant displays of the gun prior to and through the shooting.

Must have been a surveillance camera on board and an equally pre-occupied camera attendant somwhere I guess.

Personally, I give the story a BS rating of 10 out of 10.

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