Fact Check: More Armed Citizens Equals Less Mass Shootings?

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Media Bias Fact Check Launched in November 2015. One of our first fact checks was in December 2015 when we did a fact check looking at FBI statistics regarding armed citizens stopping or limiting mass shootings. As I was doing some house cleaning on the website I found this old fact check and decided to republish it as nothing has really changed since then. The numbers are still close if not the same. Here is the fact check:

Certain media personalities and sources claim that if more citizens were armed we would have less mass shootings.  We decided to check and see if armed citizens have stopped mass shootings.  While some mass shootings have been stopped the number is very low.  First the numbers:  According to FBI crime analysis, of 110 active shooter events 49% ended before police arrived. Of the cases that ended before the police arrived, 67 percent (34) ended with attackers stopping themselves via suicide (29 cases) or by leaving the scene (5 cases). In the other 33 percent (17) of the cases that ended before the police arrived, the potential victims at the scene stopped the shooter themselves. Most commonly they physically subdued the attacker (14 cases), but three cases involved people at the scene shooting the perpetrator to end the attack. According to these numbers citizens with guns have ended a mass shooting 3% of the time.  For the sake of fact checking we will use the FBI statistics, but several sources have documented up to 10 times where a mass shooting was ended by an armed citizen. Again, for statistical purposes we rely on the FBI as an authority. The bottom line is that armed citizens have certainly prevented more casualties in mass shootings, but the number is statistically very low and the majority of the time unarmed citizens subdue the shooter.  Therefore, we rate the claim that more armed citizen’s equals less mass shootings as MOSTLY FALSE.

https://leb.fbi.gov/2014/january/active-shooter-events-from-2000-to-2012

http://controversialtimes.com/issues/constitutional-rights/12-times-mass-shootings-were-stopped-by-good-guys-with-guns/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/10/03/do-civilians-with-guns-ever-stop-mass-shootings/

By Dave Van Zandt

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20 Comments on Fact Check: More Armed Citizens Equals Less Mass Shootings?

  1. Buddy K // March 4, 2018 at 4:28 pm //

    Re: Armend Citizens, Less Shootings. It looks like Dave Van Zandt has a math problem. “First the numbers: According to FBI crime analysis, of 101 active shooter events 33% were stopped by citizens before law enforcement arrived. Of these 17 times” ––– Wouldn’t 33% of 101 be closer to 33 times? Not 17, since 33% is 1/3 of 100.

  2. Media Bias Fact Check // March 4, 2018 at 6:11 pm //

    Thank you. I fixed it. I left out some important numbers that would make it clear.

  3. How many of those shootings occurred in ‘gun-free zones’ that allowed criminals to kill law-abiding citizens?

    That must play a part in the numbers of armed civilians who followed the law and left their firearms at home or in their vehicles.

  4. Media Bias Fact Check // March 5, 2018 at 9:25 am //

    Yes, that would certainly impact the numbers. Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear definition or number to go by. Pro-gun researchers such as John Lott at the Crime Prevention Research Center puts the number at 96% occurring in Gun Free Zones. This number has been widely disputed due to the criteria used. Everytown for Gun Safety puts the number at 13%. They are pro-gun control and use their own calculations which are questionable. For the purpose of the fact check above, we simply looked at what actually occurred, which is 3% of mass shootings ended by an armed civilian. Obviously, there are a whole host of variable to consider, but this is what is actually known.

  5. The big problem with this analysis is, to be factually true, the pro-gun, pro-self defense side has to prove the unproveable.

    If an armed citizen stops a crime (500K per year on the low side, up to 2M times per the CDC, usually by presenting the gun without further violence), there would have to be evidence that the crime stopped would have become a mass shooting (4+ shot) but for the armed citizen. That would require some sort of psychic ability beyond human comprehension.

    There would have to be a way to gather evidence on potential mass shooters who pick their target based on vulnerability and likelihood of armed resistance. This, too, would require a psychic.

    So, instead, the pro-self defense side is left with instances like the Appalachian Law School shooting, which was stopped by armed students. It is left with the testimony of Suzanne Hupp following the Luby’s massacre.

    So, is it factually unproveable? Sure. But is it an untrue statement? Unprovable, but the assertion is still made based on collective experience and principle.

  6. Unfortunately this doesn’t really disprove the claim. My personal opinion is that arming more citizens is a truly dumb idea but that is based upon intuition, not data and this does not enhance the data side unfortunately. Of course, the fact that one or more supposedly trained deputies would not initially enter Parkland helps support the case that the average gun-carrying citizen would be even less effective, but still as hoc support.

    If you look at the data presented critically, what I would argue it says based upon what it reviews is “given the level of armed citizens today, they have been ineffective overall at stopping most active shooter incidents. That is about it actually. The data presented does not in any way support the contention that more armed citizens would reduce mass shootings, nor does it support a claim that armed citizens are less effective. In fact, if you could show that there were exactly three incidents where armed citizens were present (unlikely), you might be able to make the claim that in 100% of the cases where there were armed citizens, they were helpful, while in far fewer %’s police were helpful.

    This is why I dislike the claim “fake news” which sounds more like nyaa Nysa than a valid claim in most cases. There are a lot of potential claims of fake news in this article. But the concept of fake news is a little broad….

  7. And forgive the typos above. Doing this on a phone is tough….

  8. Jim H, you’re darn right – typing these things out on

  9. Ok, I hate typing on phones. This comment app is weird.

    As for armed citizens, former cop here… where I worked, it was common. No big issues for us, but it saved some lives.

  10. Just a comment about the title. As it stands, it seems to assert what is actually being explored. Turning it into a question solves that, and doesn’t bias the headline toward any particular outcome.

  11. The problem with this fact check, is the fact that many mass shooting occur in gun free zones. This gives armed citizens a very unfair chance to prove their point. If we had no gun free zones, the numbers would be completely diffrent.

  12. As the La times reports http://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-ol-guns-self-defense-charleston-20150619-story.html

    “But an analysis of five years’ worth of stats collected by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey puts the number much, much lower — about 67,740 times a year.”

    67,740 thousand cases of self defense by a gun a year. This is only reported cases. Additionally if we had no gun free zones, the number would be much much higher. Guns save more lives than they take if you discount suicides. In 2012 according to fbi.gov about 1600 people were killed by knives and other sharp objects. Rifles (including hunting) took only about 400 lives.

  13. We need to have effective regulation, but any ban would be foolish and would ignore statistics.

  14. Anonymous // June 9, 2018 at 3:43 pm //

    What about events that could have become mass shootings but the killers were stopped by resistance on part of potential victims resulting in the killer fleeing, surrendering, killing him/herself or being killed by a citizen? Does the F.B.I. collect statistics on that? If not, who does that can be considered a reliable and trustworthy source?

  15. To say this is mostly false completely disregards a lot of needed data and acts as this is a simple issue with only 1 or 2 determining factors. When the reality is that the cause of mass shootings (and violent crime in general) is an extremely complex issue that has many, many factors that need to be taken into consideration.

    The reason why this is a problem is by only using two data points you can manipulate (intentionally or not), the results one way or another. For instance I’m sure you could show that social media causes mass shootings by comparing the amount of mass shootings today and the amount of people on social media vs. the amounts 20 years ago. I could draw a similar correlation between psychotropic medications and mass shootings, media coverage and mass shootings, number of guns per capita vs mass shootings,etc., etc., etc.

    Or here is a even better one. The fact that the majority of mass shootings have happened in “””Gun Free Zones””” and not a single mass shooting has happened at an NRA/gun convention is unequivocal proof that gun ownership not only stops mass shootings, but also prevents them from ever happening.

    See how quickly one can create bullshit arguments when not all of the pertinent information is taken into account?

  16. Aharon Grossman // December 28, 2018 at 3:23 am //

    Mr. Van Zandt, I find your analysis extremely problematic because you seem to habitually avoid the relevant counterfactual.

    In the 51% of the cases where the police ended the attack, how many people died first? What do you suppose the body count would have been if there had been one or more armed civilian defenders present before the police arrived?
    You dismiss the cases where the shootings ended by “themselves” as if it’s “problem solved”. How many people were murdered in each case before the shooter walked away or took his own life? What do you suppose would have been the body count in each case if there had been one or more armed civilian defenders present to create a time pressure for the attacker?
    You state that in 33% of the cases regular citizens acted to stop the murder. This demonstrates the mettle of average people when confronted with a life threatening situation. You state that it is a minority of cases when these defenders used firearms. Do you suggest this is because the majority of the defenders were opposed to using the most effective tool available? Or because they simply did not have a firearm available? How much faster could these defenders have acted and how fewer people would have died if they all had a firearm in their possession?

    It is inherently obvious and unavoidable that a greater number of armed citizen defenders would result in fewer mass shootings due to deterrence, and less civilian deaths in each due to active opposition. The only way this claim could possibly be false is if the number of murderous attackers rose in proportion to the effectiveness of the armed opposition. Since the people who are motivated to carry out these attacks seem to have little problem doing so, we have no reason to suspect that the frequency of attacks would rise even higher. Thus the balance would necessarily be tilted in favor of the law abiding citizen.

  17. Hi Aharon Grossman. That sounds like a decent theory, and it’s been proposed many times before. Yet it seems no less hypothetical, despite being a fair guestion to ask.

    What I’m wondering is: By estimates, there are about 300 million legal guns in the U.S. – if citizens being armed and carrying is such a sure solution – why hasn’t this most massive proliferation of arms in this country already been making a huge difference in the curbing of violent crime? — The only thing measurable that has been happening in parallel with it has been the U.S. having some of the highest gun crime rates and gun-inflicted suicide rates in the world. — Where are the lower crime benefits that so many no-limits gun advocates so consistently use as a rationale? — It just looks like more crimes are happening by way of legal gun owners – like the Vegas shooter, who amassed an obscene amount of legal weapons, living a relatively law abiding life up until his last hour of murderous rampage.

    Good guys with a gun seems sound in theory, but among 100 million legal gun owners with 300 million guns, the arms race, on one hand, has yet to produce the thwarting of crime as predicted, while on the other, it seems more mass shooting are occurring with legally purchased guns. — I find this both perplexing and disturbing.

  18. Definitely the analysis is MOSTLY FALSE. Mass attacks are not thwarted because law abiding citizens lock up their arms rather than carry them around. Even than, that some have been stopped should be an indication of the efficacy of such a strategy. That said, I am not in favour of legally requiring people to carry because the collateral damage would not be worth it. However, I think the incidence of these attacks would drop substantially.

  19. Joseph Perea // March 9, 2019 at 9:22 am //

    This is an extremely disingenuous attempt at pushing for more gun control. This is why I have a problem with these “fact check” or “media bias” sites. Such sites still have a clear bias. The problem here is they parade around as the absolute truth with cherry-picked data.
    The fact that the vast majority of mass shootings occur in gun-free zones was completely ommitted. There was no accounting for the 500,000 to 2.5 million estimated defensive uses of firearms. The ONLY thing that was considered was when a good guy with a gun stopped what was ALREADY a mass shooting. It doesn’t take into consideration the people who stopped what was POTENTIALLY a mass shooting (i.e. someone started shooting at people with the intent to kill as many as possible but was stopped instantly).
    It was stated that a majority of the time unarmed citizens were the ones stopping mass shootings. Was the number of times they were in a gun free zone accounted for? If less that 5% of mass shootings occur in areas where armed citizens are, wouldn’t 3% stopping rate of ALL mass shooting actually be pretty good? It’s like saying the US has more gun violance than anywhere, but forgetting that gun violance is simply violance. When you look at violance country to country the US doesn’t rank bad at all. Again, this is clearly “cherry-picked” that is used by someone parroting what they heard or not choosing to dig deep enough into the subject to realize there isn’t an absolute truth. If you want to be more reputable as an “end all be all” fact checker, you have to be much more thorough in your analysis and be willing to admit when you don’t have an absolute truth. This article is lazy at best, intentionally dishonest at worst.

  20. Media Bias Fact Check // March 9, 2019 at 6:04 pm //

    Since publishing this a few years ago this study was done: https://www.bmj.com/content/364/bmj.l542

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