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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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15 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?

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