Police secure and investigate the scene of a shooting in San Francisco on Friday, June 9, 2023. Multiple victims were struck by bullets during a shooting in the Mission District Friday night, but authorities said there were no fatalities. (Santiago Mejia /San Francisco Chronicle via AP)
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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.

Crime Prevention Research Center CPRC active shooter data
Courtesy Crime Prevention Research Center

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.

Two police vehicles are seen near a building where a shooting occurred in Monterey Park, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. Nine people were killed in a mass shooting late Saturday in a city east of Los Angeles following a Lunar New Year celebration that attracted thousands, police said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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. 


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  1. Unarmed citizens have zero chance of stopping mass murdering member of the fascist left. Which is why people like miner49er and dacian want us disarmed.

    • Not quite true, JWM. There just has to be a sufficient number of unarmed citizens to absorb all bullets until the shooter runs out of ammo. Then, they will have stopped him/her.

  2. “Politicians and corporate risk managers created environments full of disarmed victims.”

    Gun Free Zones are areas where mass murderers are guaranteed defenseless prey by law.

    gun free zones, defined:

    “gun (gŭn) free (frē) zone (zōn)

    * Trap in which people congregate and are falsely promised safety by a make believe force field of a ‘No Guns” prohibition.

    * A place where people are disarmed and not permitted self-defense with firearms.

    * Hunting grounds for predator criminals where defenseless prey is guaranteed by law.

    * Place where existing laws against violent crimes do not work to prevent violent crimes the laws are touted to be able to prevent.

    * Places designed to attract violently mentally ill predators.

    * Places where police forces cease to operate to protect before the fact of a violent crime as they are touted to be able to do by politicians implying.

    • Gun Free Zones = free fire zone for criminals. I’m to old to fight off some young punk criminal. I avoid “Gun Free Zones” if at all possible, if my gun isn’t welcome I assume I am not either.

  3. Gun Free Gun signs are meant to be ignored. What are they going to do, ask me to leave? They’re never even going to know I have it until it doesn’t matter anymore. After that, fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

    • While that is increasingly what happens up here it is at the risk of a felony where most anything indoors is a gun free zone by default (pending court decisions). The increase in daytime shootings and stabbings is just a bonus in getting beyond the local news’ ability to ignore.

    • Gadsden Flag,

      A shrewd “good guy with a gun” who uses a firearm in defense of self and others in an erroneously labeled “gun-free zone” would do the following:
      1) Immediately vacate the premises.
      2) Promptly turn-off his/her cell phone.
      3) Promptly secure his/her self-defense firearm and ammunition (in a location that no one will find without his/her cooperation).
      4) As soon as practical, secure his/her clothes that he/she was wearing (in a location that no one will find without his/her cooperation) and shower.
      5) After doing the above, contact his/her attorney.
      6) Keep his/her mouth shut and refuse to acknowledge or admit anything without his/her attorney’s approval.
      7) Find some place to spend the next few days where no one will find him/her.
      8) Resume life after returning to home/family/work/business.

      • Uncommon, I’m sorry, but I can’t agree with your advice. First, an innocent man stands his ground. Second, you would have committed several felonies by fleeing and concealing evidence even if you were justified in using deadly force. Last, you will be found. Cameras already have pictures of you, your actions, your vehicle (likely your license plate) and they will be all over the evening news before you go to bed. Oh, turning off your cellphone would be useless. If it was on it already put you at the scene. Sorry, just a reality check from an old cop. Do what you have to do and then wait for the aftermath.

        • Gadsden Flag,

          You bring up good points and this would be a much larger discussion beyond the scope of this website.

          For reference I was referring to the fact that a person who was armed in a “gun-free zone” and used their firearm in self-defense is no longer an “innocent man” because they were armed in violation of the “gun-free zone”. At that point I was thinking in terms of our Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate ourselves—which we would arguably be doing if we remained on-scene and handed-over evidence.

          Like I said this is a getting into the proverbial weeds and I recognize how such a person would be in a vary precarious position no matter what he/she did. That is the real tragedy here: that a person who used a firearm in righteous self-defense has somehow committed a “crime”.

        • For those of us living behind the Tribal Curtain, in a blue state, this question is often asked. “Assuming I’ve done everything right, do I call the cops”

          The answer often is “no”.

          I do not fault Uncommon for his statement, I can’t say I agree with it, but I certainly understand it.

        • I’m not sure if it has happened yet, but I’m certain it will at the soonest opportunity. Because a person carrying in a GFZ has committed a felony, they will soon be charged with the murders committed by the person they stopped. Whether they’ll be charged and prosecuted depends largely on the color of the map. Blue GFZ’s are much more likely to be prosecuted for not saving every life when a shooter starts.

      • A shrewd ‘good guy with a gun’ who uses a firearm in defense others used to be called a hero. Now anti-gun calls them murderers, or criminals (like Watts did so falsely and maliciously and slanderously to Eli Dicken).

        • These same people did the same thing with vets returning home from Vietnam. It’s the reason why there are laws now that makes being a veteran a protected class. Perhaps what is needed is a similar law making those that carry a protected class for the same reason.

  4. Safe, I don’t know where you live, but here Gun Free Zones are just company policy. Can’t be arrested for violating that.

    • Can’t be successfully prosecuted for behaving lawfully, but can be arrested and tormented. Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger demonstrated how to do that.

      And violating company policy (even though lawful) leads to termination of employment, which carries grave consequences if one is the family’s sole breadwinner, or holds the job providing health insurance benefits.

      • BobS, there are always consequences. I have an old Army buddy involved in a defensive shooting. He lived in a suburb of Orlando at the time. His BIL was visiting at the time to show Jim his new AR. Jim stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. He observed a BM pulling a door handle on a car. Didn’t think much of it. He knew the BF who lived in the condo and was friendly with her. Then he turned to the next car and tried the same thing. Then two more guys stepped out of the shadows. Everyone made eye contact. All began to rush Jim. He knew he didn’t have time to get inside and lock the door. He drew his Glock 23 as they drew their pistols from their hoodies. Bad guy #1 fires a shot from his High-Point. It stove pipes. What a surprise. In the meantime Jim has taken cover behind a convenient vehicle. Bad guy #1 gets a controlled pair to the chest. So does bad guy #2. Bad guy #3 decided descretion is the better part of valor. During the course of events a Tahoe at the end of the parking lot decided to join the festival. When #3 is jumping into the back seat the dome light comes on. Jim recognizes the front sight assembly of an AK the front seat passenger is trying to bring to bear. Among much breaking glass and rubber being laid he goes to slide lock. (He didn’t have a reload. He never made that mistake again.) Anyway, one DRT and one in prison with a colostomy bag. That’s gotta be real hard time. lol. The S.O. recovered the Tahoe. Stolen. No one was surprised. There was blood and muscle tissue in it so he got one more. No one showed up at a hospital with a GSW so everyone figured his friends fed him to the gators. Point is, he had to take time off from work, hire an attorney, grand jury, etc. It was a major pain in the ass. Go healed, but be ready for what comes next.

        • Gadsden Flag,

          Thank you for sharing your old army buddy’s experience. As you so aptly stated, there are consequences to everything.

          Prepare accordingly.

    • New York and more than halfway to Canada. Never let them make carrying in a private space a crime let alone public ones. The court costs are bad enough but the time lost dealing with drama and aggressive bums of various types is horrific in what it does to cities. The smaller towns are mostly fine but we will see how the illegal migrant issues play out.

    • it depends. in some states if a property owner puts up a ‘no guns’ type sign it has the force of law behind it and in some states they don’t. it depends on how the law is written in the state. if its got the force of law behind it then generally its some kind of felony to violate it. if it does not have the force of law behind it generally all they can do is ask you to leave and if you refuse or don’t then its trespass at some level (which in some states can be a felony of some type)

  5. “We now recognize two broad classes of mass murderers. Some are nihilists who hate the world. Others are narcissists who murder for fame.”

    And 100% of them are mentally ill.

  6. in the context of mass shootings it could be said that ordinary law abiding citizens using firearms to stop mass shooters is firearms common use for self and others defense.

  7. Bottom line, if you don’t have your handgun when you need it, you not likely to survive the encounter.

  8. The ‘real’ statistics are just a reflection of our past history on the frontier when individuals were forced to defend themselves from attacks by people wanting to do them harm. This is how the frontier and the ‘Old West’ was tamed — one dead bad guy at a time with a gun in the hands of a good guy. Self-defense is a God-given right.

    • Jim,
      Many of the bad guys of the old west didn’t expire to gunshot wounds. Many ended their existence at the end of a rope in front of the courthouse or rotted in some territorial or state prison. Some ended on a rope from the nearest tree or rafter without benefit of the courts.
      Hemp likely killed as many bad guys as lead.

  9. A 2015 Harvard University study Hemenway worked on that analyzed data from 2007 to 2011 found that of more than 14,000 crimes in which a victim was present, just under 1% involved a gun used in self defense. The Harvard Injury Control Research Center also found that self-defense gun use is “rare and not more effective at preventing injury than other protective actions.”


    It isn’t common for mass shootings to be stopped in such fashion. From 2000 to 2021, fewer than 3% of 433 active attacks in the U.S. ended with a civilian firing back, according to the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University. The researchers define the attacks as one or more people targeting multiple people.


  10. Our laws and Constitution were written for a moral citizenry. Most of us out here have those basic morals and believe in rule of law. Unfortunately, we have had a growing portion of the population who feel instead of think. Morals, honor, reason, and logic are too old school or just unknown to them. Disregard for the rights of others, no concern for what’s right, or fully embracing the hedonistic, immoral, no responsibility lifestyle has led to so many doing whatever they want no matter who gets in their way.
    Why do we see the demand for free everything? Rather than a honest work ethic, and understanding you work for and earn what you want or need.
    And we will see it get worse as more younger folks feed on the instant fame and gratification of social media and the ” I’m an influencer” culture.
    Gun Free Zones are what the military called a target rich environment. With little chance of opposing force for several minutes before a police response can be organized and deployed.
    As much as I would prefer to keep to what is legal, in the current climate of low accountability and few consequences for criminal behavior, I generally ignore the signs demanding I disarm. Concealed means concealed. Few if any people are going to know I’m armed as I go about my business when in town.

  11. This really depends on the state. Some years ago in Georgia, a rookie cop stopped a citizen for speeding in a school zone. The person had a weapon in the car and the rookie charged him with possession of a firearm in a school gun free zone. This person sued the state and won, with the courts saying that you could not tell a person they couldn’t drive through a school zone with a firearm in the car. The Georgia legislature then took it a step further and now we can drive right up to the front door of the school with firearms in the vehicle. The only restriction is that if you are going to exit your vehicle, the firearm must be secured out of sight. When is the last time you heard a mass school shooting in GA? At this link from the exceedingly liberal Atlanta Journal Constitution (also lovingly called the Atlanta Urinal and Constipation) even they admit that it is a rare event in this state. Most of the events they list aren’t even close to a mass event. Most are people having accidental discharges and events like footballs games outside of normal school hours. You can read them here: https://www.ajc.com/news/local-education/most-guns-incidents-georgia-schools-not-deadly/sCtW8kPBCzYjch1o5sHGUN/ But the point is, here in GA we can carry in our vehicles damn near anywhere we want. Our cars are considered extensions of our homes. And as such we don’t suffer the loses that those who fully ban firearms do. But don’t tell the left such things, they’ll undoubtedly have their head spin 360 degrees and then explode.

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