Armed citizens stop more mass shootings than you might think

According to a recent report on active shootings released by the FBI, armed citizens have stopped less than 5% of mass shootings, but Dr. John Lott with the Crime Prevention Research Center has crunched the numbers and found them to be massively underreported. In fact, as he details on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, his data shows almost half of all mass shootings in 2021 were ended by a “good guy with a gun.”

What accounts for the wide discrepancy in the FBI’s figures and Lott’s findings? According to the researcher, there are a couple of issues at play.

Two factors explain this discrepancy – one, misclassified shootings; and two, overlooked incidents. Regarding the former, the CPRC determined that the FBI reports had misclassified five shootings: In two incidents, the Bureau notes in its detailed write-up that citizens possessing valid firearms permits confronted the shooters and caused them to flee the scene. However, the FBI did not list these cases as being stopped by armed citizens because police later apprehended the attackers. In two other incidents, the FBI misidentified armed civilians as armed security personnel. Finally, the FBI failed to mention citizen engagement in one incident.

For example, the Bureau’s report about the Dec. 29, 2019 attack on the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, that left two men dead does not list this as an incident of “civic engagement.” Instead, the FBI lists this attack as being stopped by a security guard. A parishioner, who had volunteered to provide security during worship, fatally shot the perpetrator. That man, Jack Wilson, told Dr. John Lott that he was not a security professional. He said that 19 to 20 members of the congregation were armed that day, and they didn’t even keep track of who was carrying a concealed weapon.

As for the second factor — overlooked cases — the FBI, more significantly, missed 25 incidents identified by CPRC where what would likely have been a mass public shooting was thwarted by armed civilians. There were another 83 active shooting incidents that they missed.

According to Lott’s research, while the FBI found that 4.4% of active shooting incidents between 2014 and 2021 were stopped by an armed civilian, the number is actually more than ten times higher. Another significant finding; more than half of all active shooting incidents that did not take place in a designated “gun-free zone” came to an end as a result of a defensive gun use.

Between 2014 and 2021, citizens stopped 104 out of 204 potential or actual mass shootings where we could identify that guns were allowed in the area. So 51% of attacks were stopped by people legally carrying concealed handguns. Again, the most recent data is most accurate, and for 2021, 58% of the attacks were stopped in areas where people were clearly allowed to carry.

The numbers indicate If we didn’t have gun-free zones, we would have more people stopping these attacks.

That stands to reason. Conversely, if we have more gun-free zones, we’re going to have far fewer people in a position to stop these attacks when they occur.

Lott, by the way, says it’s likely that even his research is undercounting defensive gun uses that stopped mass shootings; both because of a lack of media coverage and how some incidents unfold.

Finally, even these numbers underestimate the usefulness of legally carried concealed handguns in stopping mass public shootings because many of these active shooting incidents involve only one person being targeted. For example, suppose one person is targeted and only one person may be present. In that case, there is relatively little opportunity for people to stop attacks compared to a mass public shooting where many potential victims are present.

The general public seems to agree. An early July survey by the Trafalgar Group showed that a plurality of American general election voters believe that armed citizens are the most effective element in protecting you and your family in the case of a mass shooting. First on the list was “armed citizens” at 42%, followed by “local police” (25%) and “federal agents” (10%). [“None of the above” was the answer chosen by 23% of respondents.] A survey by YouGov in May – before the Uvalde, Texas, attack – found that by a margin of 51% to 37% American adults supported letting schoolteachers and administrations carry concealed handguns.

Since the Supreme Court issued its decision in NYSRPA v. Bruen striking down New York’s “may issue” law and explicitly stating that the Second Amendment protects the right to carry a gun in public for self-defense the anti-gun lobby has redoubled its efforts to prevent Americans from accessing and exercising their right to bear arms through draconian training and licensing requirements, subjective “good moral character” determinations, and expansive “sensitive places” where lawful concealed carry is forbidden by law. We know that these laws make us less free, but Dr. Lott’s research shows that they make us less safe as well.