I’ve come to not expect much from coverage of firearms issues by the mainstream media, particularly television network news. However, even I was shocked by what a one-sided hatchet job the ABC News show “20/20” did with their special episode titled, “If I Only Had a Gun.” The program made absolutely no attempt to even feign balance or objectivity.
As I saw it, the three main points of the show were: 1)Guns can’t help you in an emergency. 2)Kids are drawn to unsecured guns like moths to a flame. 3)Guns are too easy to acquire.
To prove the first point, “20/20” staged one of many “experiments” on the program with all the scientific purity of six-year-old kid frying sidewalk ants with a magnifying glass. Reminiscent of Columbine or Virginia Tech, they placed a student volunteer armed with a training weapon in a classroom situation. Suddenly a gunman burst through the door, shoots the professor and turns the weapon on the class. The reporters then critiqued the actions of the untrained “armed student” with police instructors to show how ineffective they were.
Firstly, “20/20” picked the most extreme crime situation a person can be put in. So-called “multiple victim public shootings” (MVPS’s) or “active shooter” situations are statistically rare. A person carrying a weapon for self defense is vastly more likely to confront a mugger, wild animal, rapist or burglar (or nobody) than a psychotic school shooter. Of defensive uses against these more mundane threats, the defender usually doesn’t even fire a shot. Once the gun is brandished, the attacker usually retreats to find an easier victim.
In the “20/20” experiment there were other variables stacking the deck. The “deranged gunman” was actually a professional police firearms instructor, who just happened to know who the one person in the classroom with a gun was (each time that person was seated front and center in the classroom). The student volunteers only received a brief “show and tell” training session with their pistol before the show. The students had to wear long, weird peasant shirts that hung well past the pistol stashed in their waistband, which is not what most students carrying pistols (nor any student this side of Abu Dhabi) would wear and they also had to wear protective, yet restrictive, “space helmets“ as well. I could go on, but suffice it to say that “20/20” got the results it wanted.
In each experiment, the armed student responder was criticized for not properly taking cover, for nearly shooting the “frightened classmates” who made a point of running in front of them, and for only hitting the killer in the arms and thighs while the professional firearms instructor landed his rounds center-mass on the student. To further stack the deck, “20/20” added a second shooter to the side of the classroom, then criticized the student volunteer for only engaging the shooter directly in front.
In such a situation, “20/20” advised viewers to run, hide or play dead, and grab their cell phone (which they called an important “weapon” against active shooters). This is probably often sound advice, especially if someone is unarmed. However, it should be conceivable that armed resistance can help, since at least three school shootings have been cut short by armed bystanders (Appalachian Law School in Virginia, Pearl Mississippi High School, and Edinboro Pennslvania).
On the second point about children and guns, “20/20” recycled another “experiment” that they did ten years ago. In this one, they planted real, but inert, pistols into toy boxes at a daycare. To the surprise of the reporters, but no one else on Earth, the children played with them! I think that’s why God created adult supervision. They also showed a segment about a kid in Florida whose neighborhood is overrun with armed gang-bangers who already disobey numerous gun laws.
To illustrate their point about guns being too easy to acquire, they visited one of those despicable gun shows that we hear so much about. “20/20” brought in a guy whose sister had been killed at Virginia Tech. (The VT killer did NOT buy his gun at a gun show, “20/20” had to admit.) They gave him $5,000 and one hour to buy as many guns as he could. Again, to no one’s surprise, he walked out with a load of them. (If ABC wants to conduct this type of research here in Iowa, I would like to officially offer my services! Unlike this guy though, I will not be turning the guns over for destruction.)
Although “20/20” said that gun shows were a major supplier of crime guns, a 1997 study by the National Institute of Justice put that number at about 2% of guns used in crime. In 2001, the Bureau of Justice Statistics put the number at less than 1%. I guess it depends on what your definition of “major” is.
At the end of the show Diane Sawyer stated that they were unable to find a single “reliable” study that pointed toward the effectiveness of guns for self-defense. I guess a study is only considered “reliable” if it reaffirms the show’s preconceived thesis. Let me suggest the following to Ms. Sawyer:
- A 1997 study performed for Bill Clinton’s Justice Department, titled “Guns in America,” found that there are as many as 1.5 million defensive uses of firearms every year. The report was authored by two esteemed anti-gun criminologists, Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig.
- Two years earlier, the study “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense With a Gun,” written by Dr. Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, criminology professors at Florida State University, put that number at as many as 2.5 million defensive gun uses each year.
- According to the study “Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns,” (University of Chicago, 1996) by researchers John R. Lott, Jr. and David B. Mustard, states which implemented concealed carry laws (wherein private citizens are permitted to carry firearms) reduced their rate of murder by 8.5%, rape by 5%, aggravated assault by 7% and robbery by 3%.
- The U.S. Department of Justice, Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, reported in its 1979 report “Rape Victimization in 26 American Cities” (page 31) that about 32% of rapes are completed by the attacker. If the woman is armed with a gun or a knife, however, only 3% of attempted rapes are successful.
- According to “Multiple Victim Public Shootings” (2000) by professors John R. Lott, Jr. and William M. Landes, concealed carry laws reduced a states likelihood of having a MVPS by 60% and reduced deaths and injuries from MVPS’s by 78%. Their research also showed that the more restrictions that concealed carry states placed on where permit holders could carry their weapons (more “gun free zones”) the less of a reduction in MVPS’s the state experienced.
- Although it’s only anecdotal evidence, not scientific, publications such as Gun Week, the National Rifle Association’s monthly publications and KeepAndBearArms.com routinely publish stories of citizens using firearms in self-defense.
With all this evidence (and more), you would think that it might warrant at least a single solitary mention of a successful defensive use of a firearm on “If I Only Had a Gun.” The whole thing left me wishing, “If I only had the remote!”