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One common objection to armed citizens being welcomed into what are now designated “gun free zones” are fears that a lack of training will put that person and those around him or her at risk. On the surface that may seem reasonable, especially if all you know about defensive gun uses is what you’ve seen in the movies. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find it’s not a very substantial objection at all, and fails to satisfy the simple logic of giving responsible citizens the tools they need to resist an assault . . .

A responsible gun owner will pursue training, including marksmanship, mental preparation and understanding the law. That said, you don’t need to be an expert marksman to effectively defend yourself or others. In the real world, a large number of defensive gun uses (DGUs) don’t result in a weapons discharge – the presence of the gun alone stops the threat.

An armed citizen in a mall or school isn’t up against a movie villain. Whether mad or just criminal, killers don’t take SWAT training either. They will likely have less training than someone who has taken a concealed carry class and has spent a little time at the range. The fundamentals of safe handling, carrying and storing a firearm plus basic defensive marksmanship will suffice in 99.9% of likely real-world situations.

Soldiers, Marines and specialized law enforcement officers train because during their lifetime it’s a given that they’ll face an armed threats. Professional training boils down to incremental improvements in the likelihood of success in a DGU. SWAT teams who confront armed criminals on a regular basis will benefit by preparing for relatively unusual situations because they have a far higher likelihood of facing them. In the extremely rare event in which Average Joe has to confront an active shooter, 99.9% of his ability to succeed will depend on having a gun and a willingness to use it.

The overwhelming social utility of armed citizens is simply adding a level of risk for a criminal. The belief in the mind of a bad guy – even a lunatic – that their potential victims are armed will have a deterrent effect. The Aurora Colorado killer went out of his way to go to a theater that was a designated gun-free one.

Grown-ups with no more training than that needed to get a conceal carry permit could provide the majority of the deterrence benefit without a firearm ever leaving its holster. Should one ever have to actually confront a killer, simply seeing a gun aimed at them by a determined citizen has ended a large percentage of rampages. Should a weapon need to be discharged, imperfect shot placement will still effectively suppress a criminal (being shot anywhere is very distracting).

None of these potential scenarios that represent the majority of actual events demand much training for a defender to succeed. They simply need a determined individual who has followed the first rule of a gunfight – bring a gun.

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  1. In officer involved shootings, innocent bystanders are killed 11% of the time. In citizen involved shootings, innocent bystaners are killed 2% of the time. The antis use police as the standard by which all things guns are determined. I’ll take a citizen over a cop any day.

    • If anyone still cares, theaton read the stats wrong. According to the cited sources:

      11% of police shooting kill an innocent person, i.e. someone who has committed no crime. Not an innocent “bystander” which implies that the dead citizen was collateral damage from bullets that didn’t end up in a bad guy.

      Similarly, 2% of people shot by private citizens turn out to be innocent of any crime. A good example of this would be the guy who shot his own son recently because the son was mistaken for a burglar.

      GunFacts 6.1, page 32, if anyone wants to double-check.

  2. Great article, though I think we should flip
    this argument argument. Ask the other side why
    a potential victim without a gun should not
    have significant martial arts training before
    fighting off an attacker. Refuse to address
    firearms at all until explained.

    • Love it!

      Of course, they’ll say the unarmed victim NEEDS to be helpess, because if they’re not then they’re dangerous and somebody might commit a mass kung-fuing.

      (Not totally silly: There are precedents for this in Japan: Both the postwar US Military and the Meiji Emperor banned and/or restricted martial arts out of fear of uprising.)

      • Also if you are involved in an assault, even if you are defending yourself, if the injuries are so severe or grave and you have martial arts training you can be punished more severely simply because of your training.

  3. We’ve seen it here so many times right here. An old lady chases a whole armed crew out of her jewelry store with her pistol. 2 different cyber cafes, same results. A 92 yo man with a rimfire rifle and military training from 70 years ago.

    I’ve typed it til my fingers have callouses. If you’re not talking of allowing properly vetted citizens carry at all times and all places then you are a part of the problem.

    • Criminals understand risk analysis too, whether they realize it or not. They target weakness. If you give them two places to rob and one is armed and one is not which one do you think they will prey on?

      There have been many convicted criminal testimonies that say they love being in states with stricter gun control because they know that not only is the potential victim less likely to be armed, but they also may be less empowered to defend themselves such as through things like the lack of castle law. It’s not complicated…it’s common sense.

      • New findings on how offenders train with, carry and deploy the weapons they use to attack police officers have emerged in a just-published, 5-year study by the FBI.

        Among other things, the data reveal that most would-be cop killers:

        –show signs of being armed that officers miss;

        –have more experience using deadly force in “street combat” than their intended victims;

        –practice with firearms more often and shoot more accurately;

        –have no hesitation whatsoever about pulling the trigger. “If you hesitate,” one told the study’s researchers, “you’re dead. You have the instinct or you don’t. If you don’t, you’re in trouble on the street….”

        From 2008. Source:

  4. I’m still clamoring for RF to institute a policy to identify any firearms/gear in pictures attached to articles, perhaps a caption at the end of the article? Another commenter made the suggestion a little while ago and RF’s reply sounded like he agreed it would be a good idea… Just sayin’ 🙂

    That’s a N82 (squared) tactical IWB holster I know.

  5. “…killers don’t take SWAT training either”. No kidding; if they did, they’d probably be the good guys.

  6. I have been making this point since I started posting here. Joe citizen has a simple task — drive off his assailant. What he needs to know is how to operate his weapon effectively. That amounts to pulling it from the holster, pointing it at the target and pulling the trigger if necessary. Taking tactical training is fun and you will learn things that will make you better but will not markedly improve the outcome of the encounter you will mostly have. You are better off learning surveillance/counter surveillance techniques and threat avoidance than fancy police style tactics that you will never use.

  7. Anyone have a source for the info on the Aurora shooter choosing the only gun-free cinema in the area? I know John Lott has said it, but we really need to lay out the evidence if we expect to get taken seriously in the media.

    I’ve already had a good response from passing-on the TV report of the concealed carrier who stopped the Clackamas gunman.

  8. I’m a bit of a training junkie, but I admit that past a certain point it’s more recreational than practical.

    Few of the Defensive Gun Uses that are regularly reported on involve someone who was particularly “well trained”. Criminals generally aren’t expecting their prey to be armed at all, and it doesn’t take an immense amount of skill to shoot someone who is likely threatening you at close proximity.

    A lot of the skills training junkies end up practicing aren’t likely to be called upon in a real world encounter. It doesn’t hurt to know them, and training is a lot of fun, but in most cases it’s just not necessary.

  9. John Lott details how the Aurora killer skipped theaters showing Batman that were closer, or the same distance and larger. I did not, nor did Lott say we know definitively that the Aurora murderer specifically chose a gun free zone, we just know that of all the theaters he could have chosen within the same distance he traveled, he picked the one that was.

  10. I know this might sound horrible but….
    Gun control advocates like to say that in an active shooter situation a civilian might end up hitting or killing other civilians. Do they realize what they’re implying?
    They don’t want a civilian to be armed because they’re afraid that the civilian will hit someone else.
    Did they forget about the shooter?
    If no one engages the shooter, the shooter will keep killing.
    If a civilian ends up killing a bystander but suppresses or kills the shooter, then that means less people die. If you disarm everyone around the active shooter, then he can freely kill. (Why would you be worried about collateral, I’m worried about the guy on a rampage).
    It would be a shame if an armed citizen shot another civilian while trying to stop a shooter, but at least the shooter has been stopped.

  11. This is yet another talking point by the anti-gunners. They don’t care about training, all they care about is jacking up the price of legal gun ownership. I’m in the process of getting an out of state permit for when I visit family in the summer. I have to take a safety training course which is another $95 out of my pocket plus the additional application and license fees.

    The antis want to make that course an annual requirement, plus a psych exam out of my pocket, plus a license renewal every year, plus…

    If they can’t ban them outright, or legislate them out, they’ll simply make them as expensive as possible. That way only criminals and politicians will have them.

    • I don’t fully agree. The state may get addicted to the revenue source, but that’s not the motivation of the typical individual advocating for training in my experience.

      What the typical person is worried about is the stuff we see in IGOTD here on this site. Negligent discharges, loaded weapons left within reach of children, etc etc.

      There is something to be said for ensuring that even the dumbest-yet-legal gun owner is (a) required to receive simple, comprehensible instruction in gun safety appropriate to their situation, and (b) demonstrate understanding of the basic principles. For home defense buyers, simply demonstrating safe handling as we do here in CA should be sufficient. CCW licensees should have slightly higher requirements, but I DO think some minimum safety instruction and testing should be required. Even better if you could skip the class by passing the test.

      • Mandatory training could only come with some other restriction.
        What is needed is for all sensible firearms owners to emphasize safety & training whenever they interact with new or inexperienced shooters.
        Encouragement is invariably more productive than coercion.

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