One of the most common and persuasive arguments against gun control is that guns offer a means with which good guys can protect themselves from bad guys.
In practice, unfortunately, the guns that good guys own to protect themselves from bad guys too often end up killing the good guys' kids or wives or the good guys themselves (either via suicide, accident, or, in some cases, because they're grabbed by the bad guys and used against the good guys). Or, as in the case of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, the guns kill people who the good guys think are bad guys but who aren't actually bad guys.
But, sometimes, the guns actually do what gun-control opponents say they do.
Earlier this winter, at a high school in Detroit, a 70-year-old basketball coach was walking two of his players (girls) across the parking lot to their cars.
According to WXYZ, an ABC News affiliate, the coach and players were approached by two young men, both of whom had attended the high school and one of whom had recently been expelled. One of the men reportedly pulled out a gun and grabbed the coach's necklace.
The coach, a reserve police officer, was licensed to carry a concealed handgun, and he was carrying it. He pulled it out and shot both of the attackers, killing one of them. The young man who died was a 16-year-old named Michael Scott. The boy with him was a 15-year-old. Neither the coach nor the girls were harmed.
Now, this is still a sad story — two teenagers got shot and one got killed — but at least it was the bad guys who got shot instead of the good guys. So, in this instance, a gun owned for "protection" worked. That's why gun-control opponents have seized on this and other similar stories to support their cause.
As the nation continues to debate gun control, however, it's worth noting a few things about this incident:
- First, and most importantly, the gun used for protection in this case would be perfectly legal under the proposed new gun-control laws. The proposed laws ban military-grade assault weapons and massive ammo clips, not handguns. And assuming the coach did not have a criminal record, he would still be a legal gun owner.
- Second, the coach was a trained police officer. He knew very well how to carry, handle, and use his handgun. And the fact that he used it effectively under the extreme shock and pressure of being robbed at gunpoint shows how well trained he was.
- Third, this incident could easily have turned out differently--as many similar incidents do. If the coach had been a bit slower or clumsier in pulling his own gun, the attackers could have shot and killed all three of the victims before they had a chance to defend themselves. (In the wild west, when everyone carried guns, it wasn't always the bad guys that got shot.)
The bottom line is that no mainstream politician in the current gun control debate is talking about banning the kind of gun used in this incident. And, unfortunately, the reason this incident has gained such notice among those who are against gun control is that it is a relatively rare incident.
If you have good statistics on the number of incidents in which guns have successfully enabled good guys to protect themselves from bad guys, please email me. I will be happy to publish them.
UPDATE: Since publishing this post, I have heard from lots of other gun owners (I'm one) who say that good guys use guns constantly to protect themselves from bad guys. Some cite a figure from an old study saying that guns are "used" for protection 2.5 million times a year. As David Frum explains here, that study is old and highly flawed, in part because it depended on a small sample of individuals reporting their activity from memory and because the "use" of a gun was not defined. Another study puts incidents of gun uses for protection per year in the late 1980s at about 60,000. A 1994 study found that, in 1992, there were 82,500 incidents in which the victims of violent crime used guns to defend themselves. Importantly, however, that total included police officers. In the same year, there were 931,000 violent crimes committed using guns. Meanwhile, the FBI keeps statistics on "justifiable homicide" by private citizens. In 2011, there were 260 "justifiable homicides" in the U.S., 201 of which were by guns. Meanwhile, in 2010, according to data cited in Wikipedia, there were 19,392 firearm-related suicide deaths and 11,078 firearm-related homicide deaths. These statistics suggest that guns are successfully used to kill or victimize good guys a lot more often than they are successfully used to protect good guys.
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