Gun News You Never See
by John R. Lott, Jr. Originally published in the New York Post
August 6, 2001 The Post recently reported how a 69-year-old man
successfully rescued his 19-year-old son by shooting a "vicious dog." The
story is noteworthy for the very fact that a newspaper reported it at all.
Few people realize that civilians use guns defensively, not just against
dogs, but to stop about 2 million crimes a year five times more often than
guns are used to commit crimes, according to national surveys. Yet when was
the last time you heard the evening news talk about a citizen saving a life
with a gun?
Some very brief stories do appear, buried deep in newspapers almost always
the bloodier cases, where the attacker is shot and usually killed.
But research indicates that fewer than one out of 1,000 defensive uses of a
gun results in the attacker's death. In up to 98 percent of the cases,
simply brandishing a gun is sufficient to stop a crime. And that provides no
emotionally gripping picture to make the story "newsworthy."
Though surveys indicate that more than 60 percent of defensive use occurs in
urban areas, major newspapers rarely report these cases. Most accounts
appear in small rural newspapers and even when multiple lives are saved,
the stories don't get picked by the wire services.
Sampled below are some of the 20 defensive-gun-use stories that my colleague
Robert Waters and I found reported in local media around the country during
the same week as the Post story (July 22-28):
Augusta, Ga.: At 5 a.m., a former boyfriend, awaiting trial for previously
assaulting a woman, shattered a window next to her front door with a piece
of concrete and let himself in. According to the coroner, "When he raised
back with a piece of concrete in his hand, she fired [the weapon] and struck
him dead center in the right eye."
Spartanburg, N.C.: Arriving home at night, a man found a burglar with
firearms in his kitchen. The homeowner pulled out his permitted concealed
handgun and shot the intruder twice, killing him. Police said the burglar
had an outstanding "violence charge."
Near Nashville, Tenn.: A car with two men, driven erratically, almost ran
several others off a highway. It then followed another car off the highway
to a red light. Two men from the pursuing car walked over; one hit the
driver and the other pointed a gun. When they demanded his wallet, the
24-year-old victim, carrying a permitted concealed handgun, wounded an
attacker. Both men fled.
Gainesville, Fla.: A newspaper carrier was dragged from his car and
beaten. At 3:15 a.m., police said, "Five guys get out and start running
toward [the victim]. All five guys converged on him, breaking the windshield
and beating up his car." After being pulled from his car, the victim shot
one attacker in the chest, wounding him. A police officer said: "If you have
a concealed weapons permit, that's what it's for . . . it very easily saved
[the victim's] life."
East Nashville, Tenn.: Just before midnight, a woman fatally shot an
intruder who had entered her home and tried to sexually assault her.
Tampa, Fla.: Two teenage armed robbers committed a four-hour crime spree,
carjacking cars, robbing people, and hospitalizing one victim with serious
injuries. They were only stopped by one intended victim, a pizza-store owner
who shot and wounded one attacker. The wounded robber was arrested later at
Charleston, S.C.: A carjacking was stopped when a 27-year-old victim shot
one of his attackers. The victim had stopped to ask directions when several
men, at least one with a lengthy criminal record, jumped into the car.
What advice would gun-control advocates have given these victims? Behave
passively? Should the woman being threatened with the piece of concrete have
simply tried to duck? What about the newspaper carrier?
By making it difficult for law-abiding people to get the most effective tool
to defend themselves, gun control often puts victims' lives in jeopardy.
John Lott, a senior research scholar at the Yale University Law School, is
the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2000).