By Rob Morse
We live in a media-driven culture. We also have government agencies putting out biased reports that serve their political masters. And it’s rare that the media even question those agencies’ reports.
That wouldn’t matter, but many of us tend to confuse media headlines with facts. I’ve seen people on Facebook say that there were hundreds of “mass shootings” this year and that our children aren’t safe in school any longer. They’re wrong, and armed individuals stop mass murderers most of the time.
That raises a question: If an ordinary citizen stops mass murder and the mainstream media refuses to report it, did it really happen?
According to the FBI, the answer is invariably, “No.”
I am a data geek and I love to explore the deeper questions around these things. For example, how do we define “mass murder” and has that definition changed? How are the murderers stopped? It turns out that you get wildly different answers depending on subtle changes in the questions you ask.
To start, “mass shooting” is a relatively recent term. There is no FBI definition of it. By some accounts, there is a “mass shooting” in Chicago almost every night and we don’t have good historical data on “mass shootings” from year to year. We could almost say that “mass shootings” are anything that isn’t a “mass murder.”
The term “mass murder” was used by criminologists and statisticians to describe a specific type of violence. There, a murderer killed four or more people in a public place, excluding the death of the murderer. Also, the mass murder was not part of a larger crime like a robbery or gang-related gunfight. The murders occurred in the same place and at approximately the same time in order to distinguish a mass murderer from a serial killer. Furthermore, the attacker and victims weren’t related as they frequently are in a murder-suicide where someone kills their family and then themselves.
The real definition of mass murder hasn’t changed over time, though some have tried. In contrast, our understanding of the murderer and his motives has changed profoundly. We now recognize two broad classes of mass murderers. Some are nihilists who hate the world. Others are narcissists who murder for fame.
The frequency of murderous crazy people has increased slowly, if at all. We’re seeing more narcissists who see the 24-7 media culture and ache to be recognized. They’re willing to kill and die to be famous.
Add to that cultural change the additional problem of biased federal agencies. The FBI reported that there were 302 mass murders from 2014 to 2022. The FBI only recognized 14 cases in which a citizen, who was not an on-duty law enforcement officer or a security guard, stopped the attack. Fortunately for us, economist John Lott has decided to dig a little deeper into the numbers. The truth that Lott uncovered should profoundly change the discussion about public violence.
Lott found examples of attempted mass murders that the FBI either missed or ignored. According to his research, ordinary citizens stopped mass murder 157 times, or 35.7% percent of the time. He also looked at where those attacks took place.
We can’t expect ordinary citizens to defend the public when those ordinary citizens are disarmed by law. Lott looked to see if the attacks he studied occurred in a so called “gun-free zone.” Two remarkable things leap out when you look at whether an attack happened in a gun-free zone.
First, Lott found that mass murderers attacked gun-free zones about 98-percent of the time. That explains why honest citizens didn’t stop those murderers. Law-abiding gun owners were disarmed by plastic signs that the killers walked right past. The horrific death toll wasn’t because the murderers had a weapon that was extraordinarily lethal. The high body counts were because none of the victims had a tool to defend themselves. Politicians and corporate risk managers created environments full of disarmed victims.
Second, armed citizens usually stop mass murderers when attack occur in places where ordinary citizens are allowed to arm themselves. There, “the percentage of active shootings that were stopped is 51%.” In 2021 that figure rose to 58 percent, and to a remarkable 63.5 percent in 2022.
Stop for a moment to let that sink in. The mass murderer gets to choose the time, the place, and the means of his attack. Despite those advantages, armed citizens stop them almost two-thirds of the time when we’re allowed to defend ourselves.
It turns out that mass murder is much harder to carry out when any of the victims are armed.
Society changes with time. The news media have helped create celebrity-seeking mass murderers. Gun-hating politicians have created and proliferated “gun-free zones” where mass murderers go to hunt. Now we know that armed citizens stop mass murder.
That is profound. Ordinary citizens stopped about 1,800 murders, and for some reason, the mainstream media and the FBI have ignored it. We can learn a lot from the stories the mainstream media refuse to talk about.
This article originally appeared at Slow Facts Blog and is reprinted here with permission.