How useful are guns in civilian hands for defending against “active shooters”? Not very much.

June 23, 2022 • 9:15 am

The common defense of gun ownership by private individuals is that “what stops armed bad guys is armed good guys”. (This is a quote from Ted Cruz). Such is the defense for much private gun ownership, and also now for the ridiculous movement to arm teachers to deter or kill school shooters. Of course if you include police and security guards as “armed good guys,” the mantra has more credibility, but the mantra is often used to justify gun ownership by private citizens.

A new article in the New York Times (click on headline below) tests whether the Cruz Mantra is a verity, at least as far as “active shootings” are concerned.

It turns out that the answer is that the “conventional wisdom” is wrong for active shooters. It’s also wrong for home invasions in general, as private gun ownership involves accidental deaths, or suicides, far more often than it stops (by shooting) individual altercations between innocent citizens and “bad guys”. But today we’re talking about “active shooters”.

What is an active shooter? The paper, drawing from data collected by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State, collaborating with the FBI, defines active shooter attacks this way:

[Active shooter attacks are those] in which one or more shooters killed or attempted to kill multiple unrelated people in a populated place.

And they’re increasing—currently up to more than one a week. Here’s a figure from the NYT (all figures from the article) showing the number of active shooter attacks per year from 2011 to 2021. (According to the Washington Post, we’ve had 250 already in 2022; although their figures are for “mass shootings”, these seem the same as “active shootings”).

According to the data, there have been 433 active shooter attacks in the US from 2000-2021. What the figure below shows is how they ended, divided into two main groups: attacks that ended before police arrived (249) and those that ended after police arrived (184).Each of the two main divisions is further subdivided.

Click to enlarge:


Here are the lessons (bold headings and indented stuff are taken from the paper):

a.) Police officers shoot or physically subdue the shooter in less than a third of attacks. ”

Most events end before the police arrive, but police officers are usually the ones to end an attack if they get to the scene while it is ongoing.

Hunter Martaindale, director of research at the ALERRT Center, said the group has used the data to train law enforcement that “When you show up and this is going on, you are going to be the one to solve this problem.”

The average response time for police to get to the scene is very fast: three minutes. But this doesn’t mean that the cops themselves nearly always end the attack. Very often the shootings end when the attacker simply leaves the scene (not because he’s being shot at, kills himself, surrenders, or is subdued without guns.  These add up to 65% of total active shootings.

b.) The rate of suicide is extraordinarily high in these events. 110 of the 433 events ended with the attacker killing himself (there are a few women who carry out these attacks, but nearly all are by men). This is most likely either via “suicide by cop” or the result of a realization by the attacker that he’s going to be either caught or shot.

c.) When attacks are stopped by bystanders rather than security guards, cops, or off-duty cops, they are ended more often by physical force than by shootings.  Of 54 cases of attacks stopped by citizen bystanders, 42 of them—78%—were stopped by subduing rather than shooting the perp. Further, when attacks are stopped by shooting before police arrived, about half of them (10/22, or 45%) are stopped by security guards or off-duty cops than by citizens.

d.) When attacks are ended by the shooting of the attacker, the vast majority of time it’s by a police officer, on or off duty, or a security guard.  The number of attacks shopped by shooting the perp were 120. Of these, 12, or 10%, were stopped by citizen shooters. But 12 is only 2.7% of all active shootings that were ended.

Conclusion (from me): When mass shootings are stopped, only a very small percentage are stopped via shooting by armed citizens who are not cops or security guards. And attacks stopped by private citizens were most likely to be stopped by subduing him than by shooting him (42/54, or 78%; this drops to 66% if you include “bystander” cops or security guards.

But taking all the ways that active shootings could end, including the shooter leaving the scene (most are captured later), suicide, or subduing the shooter, only 2.8% of them are stopped by private citizens shooting perps (12/433). Ergo, Ted Cruz is wrong: in these mass shootings, at least, it’s not the “armed good guys” (implying private citizens) but other forces, tactics, and people (including cops) who stop the shootings. 

I have no objection to cops or security guards carrying guns; I do have objections to private citizens carrying or owning guns. In most cases these lead to the death of innocent people more often than to the extirpation of “bad guys.”

I’ll end with a couple of quotes from the article:

“It’s direct, indisputable, empirical evidence that this kind of common claim that ‘the only thing that stops a bad guy with the gun is a good guy with the gun’ is wrong,” said Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama, who has studied mass shootings for more than a decade. “It’s demonstrably false, because often they are stopping themselves.”

. . . But armed bystanders shooting attackers was not common in the data — 22 cases out of 433. In 10 of those, the “good guy” was a security guard or an off-duty police officer.

“The actual data show that some of these kind of heroic, Hollywood moments of armed citizens taking out active shooters are just extraordinarily rare,” Mr. Lankford said.

In fact, having more than one armed person at the scene who is not a member of law enforcement can create confusion and carry dire risks. An armed bystander who shot and killed an attacker in 2021 in Arvada, Colo., was himself shot and killed by the police, who mistook him for the gunman.

Now remember that this post (and the article) is about “active shooters,” which seem roughly equivalent to “mass shooters”. We’re not talking about home invasions or private confrontations between people. And at least in this case, almost no benefit is derived from arming citizens. When you compare that to the down side of arming citizens, the Ted Cruz defense falls to pieces.

81 thoughts on “How useful are guns in civilian hands for defending against “active shooters”? Not very much.

  1. > How useful are guns in defending against “active shooters”? Not very much.

    I’d hate to be the one to tell the Ukrainians.

    1. It seemed clear to me that the article was not really arguing against the use of force by trained professionals. What is being shown is that Average Joe with Gun is rarely effective in these active shooting situations.

      Right now, in the US we seem to have the worst of both worlds regarding guns. Some countries (like Japan) have virtually no guns in their society, so obviously they have few deaths due to gun violence. Other countries (like Switzerland) have a fair amount of guns in the country, but they are strictly regulated. Ergo, low levels of gun violence.

      In the US, as you know, it is trivially easy for anyone, competent or not, to obtain large amounts of firearms. Criminals and the mentally ill can obtain them with ease. People who you would not trust to operate a lawn mower can assemble arsenals. So in our wild west environment, we create deadly active shooting situations at a far greater rate than similar developed countries.

  2. Speaking of firearms, SCOTUS just handed down its decision in the NY concealed-carry case, New York Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen. It’s a 6-3 decision, with Clarence Thomas writing the majority opinion. You can pretty much guess the rest.

      1. “Although Thomas left open exactly what might qualify as a “sensitive place,” he made clear that urban areas do not meet that definition.”

        Hospitals, polling places… and Congress. Because Congress is very sensitive to their own safety.

    1. In anticipation of the Court decision you have cited, the NYT has posted an op-ed by Michael Luttig (who just testified in front of the January 6th committee) and Richard D. Bernstein. They slam the decision from what I take to be a conservative position. Their main argument is: “The people and their representatives have responsibly made the decisions where and when to allow the carry of handguns in public since long before our country’s founding. As contemplated by our federalism, the various colonies, states and jurisdictions have regulated and restricted public carry differently, each in response to the different needs of public safety and self-defense in their particular public spaces and locations. Whatever its policy misgivings and temptation, this conservative Supreme Court would be wise, not to mention true to its conservative principles, to leave these decisions for the people and their elected representatives to make — as the framers of our Constitution intended.” In other words, they are opposed to the national government (through the Supreme Court) making such decisions.

      I am guessing, but these authors will probably support the overturning of Roe on the same grounds: the decision should be left to the states. Thus, the Supreme Court, to support its right-wing agenda, will embrace federalism in its Roe ruling, ignoring the fact that it rejected it in the gun decision.

      1. This is totally wrong comparison. Gun rights is directly written in the constitution, but abortion is not.

        1. In the US Constitution, ‘gun rights’ are clearly linked to ‘,a well regulated militia‘,
          The SC is completely ignoring that, and hence rules unconstitutionally there.
          I think Scalia, with the Heller case, is responsible for hundreds of avoidable deaths. If there were a Last Judgement (which I doubt he believed in, despite flounting his Catholicism) he would not come off well and would probably burn in Hell (which obviously he didn’t actually believe in either) for eternity.

        2. Actually, gun rights are assumed by the constitution. It doesn’t say “you have the right to bear arms”, it says “your right to bear arms shall not be infringed”.

  3. “…attacks stopped by private citizens were most likely to be stopped by subduing him than by shooting him…”

    “…almost no benefit is derived from arming citizens.”

    Not sure you can conclude that. Subduing a perpetrator may well be the only option if nobody is armed. We might see a benefit if more people are armed, since armed people do sometimes shoot perpetrators successfully. One question that might be relevant is how often do armed citizens fail to stop a shooter or make the outcome worse.

    The other point which could be brought up is that gun violence data is woefully lacking, due to Republicans shutting down the collection of this data by the CDC. Not sure this is the time to try to draw conclusions from a data set most people concede is inadequate.

    1. One sad outcome of the good guy with a gun recently took place in Arvada,CO. Bad guy ambushes cop and kills him, good guy with gun kills bad guy, cops arrive quickly and kill good guy with gun.

      1. And in a couple of high profile mass shootings, some Good Guy With A Gun™ decided not to intervene, as they concluded (rightly) that there would be no way for the police to tell they were the Good Guy With A Gun™.

    2. Well put. From 2009 to 2016, 86 percent of mass public shootings took place in gun-free zones. Mass shooters pick places where people are disarmed.

      It’s also worth noting the difference in efficacy. The average number of victims when a shooter is stopped by police is 18. When stopped by an armed citizen the average number of victims is between 2 and 3.

      Penultimately, using shootings to determine the benefits of preventing crime is the wrong metric. The estimated number of defensive gun usages annually in the U.S. ranges from a few hundred thousand to 2.5 million, depending on the study. In the vast majority of cases, no shots are fired.

      Finally, it’s important to note that two thirds of deaths by firearm are suicides and two thirds of the remainder are due to the war on (some) drugs. If you remove Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, Los Angeles, and St. Louis from the statistics, the U.S. homicide rate is cut by more than half. 68% of homicides occur in 5% of the counties nationwide.

      Guns are not the problem. The vast majority of gun owners are not the problem. The failed war on drugs combined with inner city poverty are the problem.

      1. Some faulty reasoning there: First, most public places (schools, shopping malls, theaters churches) are gun free zones. So, if a mass shooter wants to find a mass of people, they’ll be in a gun free zone. Also, very, very few mass shootings are stopped by citizens with guns. Actually, very few public crimes (versus home invasion or personal theft crimes) are stopped by citizens with guns.

        You are right about cases of Defensive Gun Use (DGU) that shots are rarely fired but if you look at the same study it shows that in very few of those cases did the perpetrator threaten anyone verbally or physically, nor did they often have a gun. Along with the fact that you pointed out that means that most Defensive Gun Use consists of waving a gun around (but not firing) at an unarmed intruder. For that purpose, you might as well have been waving around a dollar store squirt gun with the orange tip painted black.

        Another cute fact from the same study: While 1/3rd of the gun owners WERE victims of assault within the period of the study, they didn’t use or have access to their gun. In short, their gun didn’t help them diddly-squat.

        You are right about suicides and gang violence accounting for half the gun death statistics in the U.S. but given that we have 50 times the gun deaths per capita of any other developed nation, that’s still a huge indictment of our toxic gun culture and lax gun policy. In every study I’ve ever seen comparing different states/counties, the ones with more guns have more deaths. Period. It’s not criminals, the mentally ill, video games, loose morals, or bad parenting. It’s the guns that are the problem and, as the studies above show, their benefit to “defense” is largely a fantasy.

    3. I was going to consider the same points. If more good guys carried guns, then more active shooters would be shot by an armed citizen. However… (a) More armed citizens would kill other bystanders by accident. And more importantly: (b) more altercations over parking, etc. would end in a shooting.
      So on balance I do not think this is the way to be heading.

      1. Your concerns about more altercations are not supported by the evidence. 25 states currently have Constitutional Carry, no license required. There is no increase in violence. In fact, most of those states are far more peaceable than those with extreme gun control laws.

        1. Subway Sandwich employees were recently shot in the US over putting too much mayonnaise on shooters sub sandwich. If there was no gun on hand, there would be no shooting. Last weekend, 220 people were shot and killed, plus 570 wounded in the USA. Please use some common sense in any responses, instead of doubling down on a indefensible position. Gun Rights are costing lives, not saving them. Please do present evidence of your peaceable claim. It certainly was disproved in Ulvade. No citizen stepped up, and police officers sworn to protect waited for “permission” to do what they should have down without hesitation. They were cowards. Faced with the prospects their own mortality, most gun owners will run and hide, rather than fight off a shooter. The second amendment was just that- an amendment – a change if you please. One that should be stricken form the US constitution as easily as it was added. BTW, I am not Republican, Democrat, or even American. I am Canadian. I see this from a country with gun laws that for that actually work.

  4. Do I think there are too many guns in the US. Yes. But I don’t think reviewing the current data set leads to the conclusion that teachers should not be armed. *If* more teachers were armed and ready to defend children then perhaps more active shootings would be ended more quickly. Or perhaps more teachers would lose it and go postal, or defend themselves from attack by children.

    Allowing, say, half the States to permit arming teachers, and half not, plus collecting ‘proper’ data might enable conclusions to be drawn. But that would be criticised for being too logical…

    1. Its worth at least considering that this crazy idea might work, based on the premise that the type of person who would shoot up a school would in fact be deterred by knowing they’d be walking into a building where the teachers are armed. But the crazy idea still fails. For one, it would cost a TON of money to arm and train teachers. And teachers would quit rather than be put into this position. On the hole they emphatically don’t want it.

  5. Gathering data regarding the net worth of “armed citizens” is probably hampered by the fact that those safety-concerned citizens who walk around carrying weapons aren’t necessarily the ones you trust with weapons.

  6. Good article. And regarding gun violence in general, it’s pretty clear that the more guns there are, the more gun violence there is. Arming more people will just take us back to the days of the Wild West. (Satirical illustration here:

    On the topic of gun ownership, I think Sam Harris had it right in his essay, “The Riddle of the Gun.” The Second Amendment isn’t going anywhere, so we’ll continue to have guns, and we just have to deal with that reality. However, random 18-year-old boys shouldn’t be able to go into a gun store and walk out with a couple of assault rifles and a thousand rounds of ammunition. As Harris suggested, getting a gun license should be akin to getting a pilot license: lots of training should be required. I’m in favor of raising age limits, having stronger background checks, imposing waiting periods, and requiring gun owners to have liability insurance (similar to car insurance).

    Mike Pesca also made a great point about assault rifles: They do a lot more physical damage, making victims much less likely to survive; they tend to allow a lot more rounds to be fired in a much shorter time; and they have “totemic” value to aspiring mass shooters. (Here’s his podcast episode about it:

    Bari Weiss also had a good podcast episode on guns:

      1. Is liability insurance coverage against deliberately inflicted (even if legally justified) gunshot wounds a product that insurance companies would even want to sell? You can’t make them. Shootings due to simple negligence I can see being in the “appetite” (as the jargon goes) of a liability insurance company if the premium could be set fairly, and I suppose it already is for gun owners with general personal liability and fire insurance on their houses.

        But here’s the thing. Some people are just uninsurable. They are too careless, they don’t pay their bills on time, they smoke in bed and have fires, they don’t fix their roofs, they let their kids fall out the windows of high rises, they have too many speeding tickets and DUIs, they don’t store their guns safely. They shouldn’t have guns but they do. Insurance companies want to cancel insurance on those clients, or not write the policies in the first place. Now the insurance company becomes the de facto gun police: if the gun liability policy that enabled the gun owner to purchase his gun is rescinded, he has to surrender his gun? Yeah, that’ll happen.

  7. To be generous, based solely on the text of the quote from Cruz, one COULD judge that he included police and security guards in his “armed good guys” group. Mind you, that still doesn’t exactly give the “armed good guys” a very good track record in these kinds of situations. I also am not a fan of dividing people as Cruz does into “good guys” and “bad guys”, frankly. I suspect many of these shooters in these kinds of situations see themselves as the “good guys” and those they are shooting as “bad guys”. I suspect this dichotomization/demonization/valorization of all humans is at least part of what leads people to go on such rampages, or at least allows themselves to talk themselves over the final hurdle.

    I wonder how the stats differ in that part of the multiverse in which Sam Harris’s preferences have been put in place: gun ownership by citizens is indeed a legal right, but the requirements for licensure are stringent, requiring extensive training, coursework, and repeated requalification at a level similar to that required for private pilots’ licenses. In such a verse, it may be that well-trained citizens could indeed be useful in more “active shooter*” events…but this is far from the verse we are in right now. I would barely trust most American gun owners to drive me home safely from the train station, frankly, let alone sensibly to use a firearm in a crisis. Maybe it’s appropriate that firearms are most often dangerous or lethal to their owners–at least there’s an implicit assumption of risk (though I feel sympathy for their families, who are also at risk).

    *Is there such a thing as a passive shooter?

    1. I appreciate your well thought out comment, but how in Hell (or Heaven) could anybody consider Mr Cruz a ‘Good Guy’?

  8. Ted Cruz is predictably wrong any time he opens his mouth. In the case of good guys and bad guys with guns, he was jut repeating Wayne LaPierre’s NRA talking point.

  9. There are two kinds of people in the U.S. Senate: (1) Ted Cruz, and (2) senators who can’t stand Ted Cruz. (This statement is not new with me. It’s a retweet.)

    Very solid article. But facts won’t change the minds of true believers, sadly.

  10. We continue along fantasizing that America is all safe and happy like in the middle of the prior century. Our protections pivot on it, when the reality is: our standard of safety ought to be ten times the degree of derangement evident in America at this moment.

    All schools:
    One entrance.
    Emergency windows and doors open out only.
    Highly trained, armed, and paid top professional security personnel.
    All rooms and corridors on a network of vigilance and warmings.
    Classroom doors — highly reinforced — automatically lock solid on alarm.
    Arm and train all teachers. Evil needs to see video of teachers as armed protectors.
    Many more details.

    Make this system universally and broadly known. All schools.
    “Advertise” it with a logo all around the school. Brand heavily on that logo. NoChance.
    Perform stress tests and capture on video, publicize them.
    Don’t stop until the perception is: evil has no chance here. You will be stopped long before you get inside, and highly likely you will die before you harm one person inside.

    I won’t bother to deconstruct this NYTimes piece. It is totally fallacious.

    One word blasts apart the attempted agenda of the NYTimes (and all the others trumpeting it)


    1. You forgot a couple of items:

      – No playgrounds. Recess periods must occur inside. Alternatively, a one mile security radius must be established around the play area.

      – Students must arrive and depart at randomly assigned times. Each parent will receive a call in the morning and afternoon to let them know today’s drop-off and pick-up times. Please have your password ready for identity verification for each call.

    2. How much will all this nonsense cost us? And why? So gun manufacturers can continue to profit off the deeply-embedded American fantasy that guns are something other than a tragic, useless cancer on our nation.

      1. @Kevin Edward Meredith

        Why? to stop massacres at schools!

        Confiscating 400 million guns and banning ownership will not stop massacres.

        How much? FedGov alone (not counting states) spends $10 Trillion per year. In five seconds funding for this could be found easily.

        1. That’s true, John. Look at all those strict gun laws in other countries, and still there the same number of school shootings, theater massacres, innocent bystander killings etc. in those other nations. I mean, if you don’t believe me, look it up!

          1. Never forget the ‘/s”, Kevin. Even on a site like WEIT someone might take that comment seriously .

            1. Don’t worry, that comment was no where smart enough to accidently fool anyone. It is so pathetically lame I won’t respond to it.

              1. Be honest, John — you almost looked it up before you remembered what you would actually find there. Lots of kids and innocent people not dying because of sane gun laws.

              2. Ok, I’ll be honest, since you beg. I was not even tempted to look it up. I know the gambit. Correlation, especially when ten other explanations are better, is void when children are dying.

                Additionally, you evade. I posted about how to stop school killings. Specifically. You chose to ignore that and act as if I made a general claim for the worldwide problem.

                I regret posting back to you, it is undeserved. It does give me very faint hope you will actually respond to my original post. In and of itself.

    3. John, is this satire? Once you have turned schools into fortresses, potential shooters will chose different targets: malls, cinemas, grocery stores, churches, etc.
      The idea that more guns means more safety is bizarre, given that the country with the most gun deaths per capita, USA, is also the country with the most weapons per capita

      1. @ Peter

        Turn schools into safe places, so teachers, admin, and students are feeling secure. I realize many people think “guns” per se means terror, but in the broad scope of America, the security measures — yes including professionals with stopping power of guns — does NOT induce fear. It induces relief.

        The current situation: schools are undefended. This is terrifying to children. They know a “bad person” could suddenly burst in their schoolroom and start killing. Is that what you want for the children? [please note: banning guns and confiscating 400 million firearms will NOT provide the feeling of security.]

        1. [please note: banning guns and confiscating 400 million firearms will NOT provide the feeling of security.]

          What a silly statement. Are you speaking for yourself? It would provide me with a feeling of security…and faith again in the sanity of US lawmakers.

          1. @ Mark R.

            Schools would remain undefended. Massacres would continue, with knives, guns that missed the confiscation or with 3D printed weapons, bombs, and kidnapping for abuse and strangling. The derangement will only be aggravated by the confiscation and bans.

            How would forbidding gun ownership, and confiscation of 400 million guns, stop gun violence? They won’t get them all. They can be hand-made

            P.S. I keep saying “confiscation of 400 million guns” in an effort to break through the stunning denial that 1) this would ever pass into law, except under Mao/Hitler type totalitarianism; and 2) wake you to the absurditiny that even the Maos and Hitlers would succeed in doing it.

            1. It’s amazing to me that the gun lobby can still invent new excuses for doing nothing about the horrendous gun problem in the US. The latest one going around, which you echo here, is that there are just so many guns in circulation that it would be impossible to even make a dent in their number and, therefore, gun control advocates should just give up and find a new hobby.

              1. Explain how a dent in guns would stop the massacres in undefended schools. Also, since you missed the reason for my echoing the 400 million thing. Kindly read my P.S. to let it sink in.

            2. You’re the guy who brought up confiscating 400 million firearms, not me; I have no delusions that it would be passed into law. I just said it would provide me with a feeling of security that you asserted it wouldn’t. And you citing Mao and Hitler as people who perhaps “could”, but in the end “couldn’t” confiscate the guns is simply absurd. You should read what exactly Mao/Hitler/Stalin were able to do in their short-lived totalitarian regimes. You’re paranoid, and for some reason cannot seem to grasp the difference between easy to obtain and use killing machines like guns from weapons like knives, bombs (yeah, those are popular), bare hands (strangling?) or what have you. And 3D printers can’t come close to creating weapons like the AR-15…maybe someday, but not today; I’m sure the sickos are working on it. Yay, for freedom!

              1. Correction: I asserted that confiscating all firearms and banning ownership would not convey a feeling of security to children attending undefended schools, since it would not stop killings in schools.

                The balance of your new post is incoherent.

                For others and clarity. I am totalizing on a total ban and total confiscation, because anything less, such as “stricter gun laws,” will not stop school killings if the schools continue to be undefended.

                It is slickening to think that a frenzied legal project to make gun acquisition somewhat more difficult would provide a warm feeling in adults, while a concerted effort to defend schools, as I outlined — but did not invent, it is widespread — is greeted with hostility.

    4. Anybody remember the 2003 Chicago Nightclub stampede when “security guards used Mace and pepper spray to halt a fistfight between two women.”

      “James T. Joyce, commissioner of the Chicago Fire Department, said that several of the building’s doors were locked or blocked during this morning’s melee and that most of the victims died when they were crushed by some 1,500 people — perhaps twice the permitted occupancy — pouring down a single narrow staircase.”

      Besides, how will Ted Cruz and other members of Congress be able to evade the press if there is only one way in and one way out.

      1. @ Su Gould

        The recommendation for one entrance only, and emergency doors that only open out is the strongest recommendation being put forward by security experts.

        I won’t dignify your awkward and strained attempt (and all the other lemming-likes) to (at long last) get to a “Bad Man Cruz” meme. Go for it. However, your zeal to get to the finish line with it made you look silly compared with this important recommendation.

    5. Okay, here’s your reply. I thought you were joking, but I guess you weren’t. Your “solution” is what a sick nation does, the actions of a society that believes that guns are more sacred than peace, humanity, or a normal childhood.

  11. I’m as anti-gun as you’ll find, but it seems to me the pro-gunners would look at an article like this and think it doesn’t really address their claims. So for instance:

    Most events end before the police arrive, but police officers are usually the ones to end an attack if they get to the scene while it is ongoing.

    “Because there weren’t any armed/trained citizens to have stopped it sooner.”

    When attacks are stopped by bystanders rather than security guards, cops, or off-duty cops, they are ended more often by physical force than by shootings.

    “They only had to resort to that because not enough people were there carrying guns.”

    When attacks are ended by the shooting of the attacker, the vast majority of time it’s by a police officer, on or off duty, or a security guard.

    “Because there weren’t any armed/trained citizens to have stopped it sooner.”


    In other words, the article is arguing from “how things are now.” The pro-gunners will generally agree the current state of affairs leads to this kind of data, but they are arguing about “how things should/could be…if more people were trained and carried guns.” “Let’s give people more guns and training and THEN we’ll see more crimes stopped by Good People With Guns!”

  12. An opinion piece I recently submitted to a few papers, maybe one will pick it up, but in the meantime, sharing it here. Apologies for the length, but I consider this data to be the central but long-neglected central question of firearms in America.

    If guns are going to be marketed primarily as the core of a personal protection system, then let us evaluate them on that basis.

    And let us quickly conclude that guns have been a grotesque failure.

    Between 2014 and 2020, according to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), 11,981 people were killed with guns being used defensively. Let’s say that all of those deaths represented the just use of a gun, the appropriate killing of a murderer, armed robber, home invader.

    During that same seven-year span, 106,501 people died in what the GVA classified as willful, malicious, or accidental deaths. Some were murdered in cold blood, some picked up a gun they thought wasn’t loaded, some were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    So, for every justified killing in the United States, for every act of personal or societal protection, almost nine innocent people died. For every criminal whose death was determined to be legal, almost nine more people had to die tragically – moms, dads, brothers, sisters, schoolkids.

    And for every one of those almost nine innocent lives lost, countless more survivors had their hearts irrevocably broken, while another 204,725 people didn’t die but were injured, meaning that along with the almost nine people who died for every justified killing, another 17 innocent people suffered the immediate agony of being shot, plus in many cases a lifetime of debilitation and disfigurement.

    Somehow, firearms in America have been equated with freedom. But the freedom to defend your and your loved one’s lives by killing one bad guy has meant for a recent seven-year span the deaths of almost nine innocent people, and the injuring of 17 more, an absolute negation of freedom for almost 27 people, a tragic deprivation of rights for all who loved them, and not insignificant costs the rest of us must pay in emergency room funding, lost productivity, long-term medical care, first responder costs, heightened security, and, often enough, new schools when memories of horror are too firmly attached to an old one.

    If I were driving my family toward a busy intersection when my brakes failed, and I possessed a weapon that could vaporize all the stopped cars in front of me – and the people in them – so I could coast safely through, I would most likely be charged with murder the first time I used it, my weapon confiscated and destroyed.

    But where guns are concerned, America has accepted a comparable tradeoff.

    Gun manufacturers are of course delighted with the math. Yes, almost nine people must die each time their products are used properly, and 17 more must be injured, traumatized, maimed, but the death and suffering matters to them far less than the money they’re making. Politicians, likewise, whose jobs depend on gun money and industry endorsements, have somehow found a way to make peace with the arrangement.

    But what about the rest of us? Are we content with this calculus? Are we willing to be one of the 27 who must be killed or injured so that one murderer can be eliminated? Are there 27 parents anywhere in America so pleased with the elimination of one armed robber that they are happy to hand over their child to death or agony?

    If not, something has to change. In fact, the solution lies no further than the 2022 and 2024 elections, and examples of the laws our new representatives can pass to end the killing lie no further than the rest of the developed world. For example, Canada (277 gun homicides in 2020), Australia (229 total gun deaths in 2019), and the United Kingdom (107 total gun deaths in 2020) all maintain diverse, prosperous civilizations without tens of thousands of firearm deaths and injuries per year.

    Vote. Cast your ballot, and please get rid of your guns. Statistically speaking, every gun is 27 times more likely to bring tragic death and misery than to fulfill its purpose (and that figure ignores the 23,000 suicides committed annually with firearms). It is past time we recognize and act against the true obscenity of our national bargain with guns.

    1. I can hear the gun owners’ response: “Yeah, maybe so, but I’m a responsible gun owner and a ‘good guy with a gun’ so this really doesn’t apply to me”.

      1. But will the many who don’t own guns or don’t care either way continue to accept the status quo if alerted to the appalling statistics?

        1. The short answer is probably “yes”, unfortunately. I suspect that many of those that don’t own a gun also believe that, if they did, they’d be one of the good gun owners. It’s basic human nature. It’s why 65% of Americans believe they are above average in intelligence. They definitely don’t think they would leave a loaded gun where a kid would find it because that would be stupid.

          1. They definitely don’t think they would leave a loaded gun where a kid would find it because that would be stupid.

            Yes. That would be stupid. One has to watch out for
            chocolate Labradors as well, especially if they are named Trigger 🙂 It is my second favourite gun accident.

            My favourite is the instance of a Georgia (the US state, not the country) man accidentally hitting his mother-in-law (she wasn’t badly hurt). The man took a shot at an armadillo; but the bullet ‘bounced off the animal, hit a fence, travelled through the back door of the mother-in-law’s mobile home and the recliner in which she was sitting, striking her in the back’. The good news is that the ’74-year-old mother-in-law, Carol Johnson, suffered injuries described as non-life-threatening. Sheriff’s investigator Bill Smith said she was walking and talking afterward’. I wonder what she had to say.

            The armadillo died.

            1. I am not really acquainted with armadillos , but why would one want to shoot an armadillo? Are they uprooting some plants? Are they not protected animals?

              1. I am not really acquainted with armadillos…

                Nor am I.

                …but why would one want to shoot an armadillo?

                I have absolutely no idea. My purpose was humour. I was amused by the inadvertent potting of the mother-in-law. Here is one from Texas: A man fired upon an armadillo just before 3am on a Thursday (no idea what he was doing up at 3am on a Thursday). He shot three times, and one of the shots ricochetted and whacked him in the jaw. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital where his jaw was wired shut. According to the Houston Chron he was ‘airlifted to a hospital and had his jaw wired shot [sic]’ 🙂 . It does not say where his mother-in-law was at the time 🙂 .

                They don’t know what happened to the armadillo.

                Are they not protected animals?

                I don’t know.

              2. I sort of like them, but they are incredibly destructive. They show up at night, and dig up everything in search of bugs to eat. They will absolutely kill a garden in an amazingly short time. And they sometimes spread leprosy. And tapeworms.
                As far as numbers, they are extremely common in places like Texas, and have become more so since their predators are fewer than in Ye Olden days. Their range is expanding, I have read, twice as fast as might be expected of other mammals their size and diet.
                They are also not terribly bright. when alarmed, they jump straight up in the air, then upon landing, run about ten yards and stand still. They do the rolling themselves up thing when in extremis, but these days their most dangerous activity is crossing roads. Jumping straight up is a terrible defense tactic when one is under a moving truck.

          2. Approximately 44% of US adults live in a household with guns – that’s about 114 million adults. The number of kids who die from accidental shootings each year is about 110.

            So, if an American adult thought they would be “one of the good gun owners” with regards to the safety of children, they would be right about 99.99996% of the time.

            Another poster in this thread said that he “… would barely trust most American gun owners to drive me home safely from the train station…”

            I don’t see how we are going to succeed as a nation to find a solution to our gun violence problems when both sides demonize responsible people who happen to be across the aisle from them on this issue.

    2. Where your, and similar, arguments go off the rails is in two places:

      1) Successful defensive use of firearms, like successful infection prevention in hospitals, is not measured by how many times you shot a bad guy but how many you didn’t need to shoot because they didn’t rob or attack you, guessing that you might have been armed. The effectiveness of this defence is often vastly overestimated through motivated reasoning but you did not address it in your piece. This is where gun owners stop listening. In hospitals, we can never know how many infections didn’t happen but might have, but for our efforts. It’s a problem inherent to measuring all preventive efforts except in randomized controlled trials as for vaccines.

      2). The 106,501 shot to death in that seven years do not all represent the innocent collateral damage of defensive gun ownership. If two criminals are maliciously shooting at each other and Knott was shot but Schott was not, Knott’s death can be written off that total. We can wish that Schott had been shot, too, to make it 106,502, …but he probably was anyway by Knott’s friends. If a store clerk is maliciously shot to death in an armed robbery, or a child is recklessly shot at a birthday because a rival gang invaded the party to kill her older brother, their deaths are not the collateral damage of defensive gun ownership but are the consequences of criminals using guns to commit crimes. By all means stop and frisk them and at least seize their guns even if prosecuting so many minority offenders makes you queasy.

      What is tragic is the number of gun owners and their families who die of negligence, suicide, and domestic violence from the presence of defensive guns in the home.. Looking at gun deaths and injuries from a public health perspective hopes that these shootings can be prevented in a way that criminal homicides can not. This is still a large number, which should inform the decisions gun owners make about the risks and benefits of keeping guns in the home. But you can’t expect gun owners to accept your premise that defensive gun ownership causes gang-bangers to die in shootouts and ought to be proscribed in order to save their lives.

      3) Your analogy about the brakeless car at the intersection is totally nonsensical for what should be obvious reasons of non-causality.

      The risks, (suicide, domestic violence, carelessness, and a magnet for theft) of keeping defensive guns in a dwelling should be widely publicized. But your tally of gun deaths doesn’t pass muster.

      1. Not sure what your point is here, Leslie, other than to nitpick. Since we don’t know how many crimes firearms prevent, let’s go with numbers we do know. If the human race has to stop calculating things because of all the collateral unknowns we can’t calculate, we return to the stone age. Maybe it’s not almost 9 deaths per legal use of a gun, and 17 injuries. Maybe it’s six and 10. Or three and seven. The exact number of deaths isn’t the point. Excessive, needless death and misery are.

        You’re right, defensive gun ownership doesn’t directly cause gangland shootouts, in the same way that buying Bayer stock doesn’t directly cause Roundup to give people cancer. But few modern problems are solved by stamping out the direct cause. Things are more complicated than that, and I would encourage you to loosen up your thinking a little, e.g. try to get the big picture and accept that analogies are by definition imperfect comparisons that can still be valid.

        1. If you believe that RoundUp causes cancer, Kevin [sorry for initial error!], then you and I don’t likely have much we can talk about.

          1. I know, science is scary: “The World Health Organization (WHO) finally states, officially, what the rest of the world is already aware of: that the world’s most popular herbicide, RoundUp, probably causes cancer in humans, as well as damage to chromosomes and DNA.”

  13. I would not want to be a person of color, a good guy with a gun, first to arrive on an active shooter scene, when the next good guy with a gun or alternatively the police arrive. The confusion is palpable.
    On the flip side I haven’t heard a good rebuttal to Sam Harris’ view that if we outlaw and confiscate guns, we relegate those that are unarmed or physically weaker, to be potential victims to those who are physically stronger or better equipped.
    Personally I go with numbers. The number of deaths linked to poor hand hygiene in hospitals is ridiculously high. The number of suicides by gun far outweigh the number of victims of gun violence. Hate to sound cold, but I would address these first just from a public health stance. Do the most good and work your way from there.
    As a society we have accepted that a certain amount of impaired driving is acceptable as the punishments rarely fit the damage that it causes. We are pretty much headed in that direction with gun victims. Look at sentences imposed upon impaired drivers who hit motorcyclists or who are involved in auto accidents overall. It indicates what a previous poster said, “America has accepted a comparable tradeoff” with vehicular deaths and freedom to travel
    Sorry if these come across as random or disjointed thoughts, just saying it’s a much larger discussion than ” ban guns” or ” it’s mental health”.
    I think we might all agree that money in the form of political donations should be removed from the equation. When it is disallowed to even do comprehensive studies on gun violence, there is no good that can come of that.,would%20only%20be%2023%20HAIs.

  14. Didn’t read all comments above, but isn’t the statistic relevant to the effectiveness of armed citizens the percentage of cases in which armed citizens are present for an active shooting wind up
    being responsible for ending the shooting, and not the percentage of all cases in which an armed citizen is present?

  15. The obvious flaw in the “good guy with a gun will stop the bad guy with a gun” argument is that so many of the bad guys with a gun are convinced that they are the good guy.

  16. Today I heard the pro SC decision pundits state that the ruling simply allows “law abiding” folks, who already have gone through the process of obtaining a license, simply be afforded their right to carry their weapon outside of their homes for protection. That is the stronger side of their argument. The faulty assumption is that “law abiding” citizens don’t become willing or unwilling criminals. I’ve seen far too many, including myself, good citizens turn into road rage monsters in the blink of an eye – the easy example though there are many like this one – and some would now be armed!

    Guns are not very forgiving when in the hands of mostly emotional and stress prone humans. The self defense use argument is not that strong to balance the equation in any meaningful way. And with suicides as the largest bucket of gun death, followed by criminal, the armed “law abiding” citizens is not a good model for the current U.S. emotional psyche.

    Michael Shermer has a good post at Quilette:

    Paraphrasing Shermer – it’s the unforgiving lethality of the tool (in the hands of irrational beings) that is the main problem with guns and us.

  17. These data fit with the idea that the majority of these incidents are political rather than personal, the people shot are substitutes for the more nebulous forces that the shooter feels attacked by and is hitting out at. It also shows that these are basically the US version of suicide bombing. The shooter generally does not expect to survive and the idea of a shoot out with teachers or other civilians probably fits well with there mental movie of what they foresee happening.

    Limiting easy access to the types of guns that these people fetishise may well redirect this form of political violence into straight suicide or into bombing, knife attacks, car attacks which are either easier to detect beforehand or kill fewer people.

  18. I am glad to see that some of the commenters bring up critical points. My view is that-
    Law abiding people are unlikely to be carrying guns in places where guns are prohibited. Criminals or lunatics planning a massacre are not going to pick a place where they expect to meet armed resistance.

    The issue with the stats on shootings at homes where guns are present is primarily that it includes homes where the gun is present due to an existing threat, like gang members in the household, or drugs being sold from the house. Also, the study that I am the most familiar with did not actually find that the gun kept in the home was the one used when family members were shot.

    The best use of a gun in self defense does not involve it being fired. If the attacker flees on meeting armed resistance, that is a success as well.

    It is hard to quantify this issue and do math with it, because you cannot easily control for many important factors.

    Here is a hypothetical example. A maniac decides to conduct a massacre. Not wanting to be instantly ventilated, they choose a courthouse, school, or concert venue where concealed firearms are prohibited. They might be expected to begin the attack when or where no armed uniformed officers are nearby.
    What they have not accounted for is that off duty police are often exempted from the prohibition on carrying, and they are doing it concealed.
    The maniac’s target selection process has already mostly eliminated most possibilities of being stopped by a legally armed civilian.

  19. I thought this post would be mostly about the new Supreme Court decision. They seem unusually active now, quickly turning the USA more Republican every other week. More laws on the uterus, fewer on guys compensating with a big gun.

    On the heels of the devastating mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas, this decision would further deregulate guns in the United States.”

  20. Unfortunately, the data do not support (or refute) the conclusion.

    The first question I would ask is why did 113 gunmen leave the scene? Did some of those people leave the scene because the intended victim or a bystander produced a gun?

    Anyway, this is all a matter of detail and I think it’s “look a squirrel!” tactics on behalf of the gun supporters. The answer to the argument “without firearms citizens cannot defend themselves against active shooters” is “it wouldn’t matter if there were no active shooters”. Obviously, zero is an unattainable nirvana – even the UK has some shootings. However, even if you reduce the active shooters only by half you save at least 70-80 lives and that’s just shooters that died. You halve the number of victims too.

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