Gun News You Never See
by John R. Lott, Jr. • Originally published in the New York Post
See also: Doctors & Guns: The greater threat to your health?
Firearms & Responsibility: A Common-Sense View
The Gun Control Mindset in a Nutshell
Where We're Headed: what "gun control" means for all of us

Do the Math! 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.

Two Ways to Shield Yourself from Violent Attack

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 a hospital.
  • 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).