Jacksie King was an elderly grandmother who lived in a small Illinois house on dead-end Gaty Avenue since her youth. At 87, she mostly stayed at home and enjoyed frequent visits from her daughter.
Her life changed one December night when an unidentified intruder cut her phone lines, pried the security bars off her window and invaded her home. After severely beating her, the man robbed her house and escaped. The case was never solved.
Two months later, King awoke to the sound of an intruder breaking through her storm door at 2 a.m. As before, the bars were pried off her window to access an enclosed porch, and again the phone lines were cut. King reached for her only remaining lifeline—a .38-cal. Colt revolver her daughter had given her for protection.
This time the would-be victim fired, striking 49-year-old Larry Tillman in the chest, immediately dropping him on the doorstep. Terrified, King stayed in her chair for four hours, clutching her revolver, until her daughter arrived. Police later learned Tillman was a career criminal with an extensive record, including residential robbery.
The fact that keeping and bearing arms actually works is a point of pride for patriots and gun owners everywhere.
Unfortunately, anti-gun groups and their conspiring cohorts in the media would have you think otherwise. Sure, they’ll report the occasional incident when a person is injured in an accidental shooting. And stories of firearms misuse by criminals are sure to lead nearly every newscast and take many top headlines.
Yet, despite what critics and the media would have you and other Americans think, successful defensive gun usage is far more common than even those on our side of the debate tend to understand. Successful defensive use of firearms in the United States actually occurs literally thousands of times a day.
The Right, the Need Researchers, both public and private, have estimated total defensive gun uses at between 800,000 and 2.5 million times per year. To many, that’s a difficult reality to accept since we don’t hear the hundreds of armed citizen stories that should be reported daily.
Mainstream news agencies focused on national news rarely bother to report local shootings in Boise, Bismarck or Bozeman because they see no relevance to the national perspective. They’re wrong, of course, but we’re not in the control rooms so we can’t change the coverage.
Instead, the solution is to spread the word when someone uses a firearm in self-defense—to have a place where these stories are collected from local news outlets and reprinted for all to see. That’s what the “Armed Citizen” column in America’s 1st Freedom and other NRA official journals has done so well for many years, and is the most popular of all offerings to readers. As such stories accumulate, the national perspective begins to emerge—not only is there a Right to Keep and Bear Arms, but there is an urgent need.
Such stories are also likely to sway pacifists and politicians. Despite research, discussion with someone who has never fired, or even held, a gun, or who has never been in a potentially violent situation, is generally framed in abstract terms due to a lack of knowledge or experience. There’s no substitute for direct experience, yet we can’t take every critic to the range for a practice session, and we certainly can’t expose each one to the horror and dread of facing a violent situation while utterly defenseless.
Thus, providing a place where these ordinary citizens can read the testimonies and true success stories from thousands of armed citizens across the United States becomes increasingly important.
The Civilian Gun Defense blog (www.gundefense.net) is one such place. It contains no opinion, no preaching, no commentary. It hosts only stories of defensive gun use documented by local media sources around the country. While most defensive uses go unreported by local media, some do make it on the air and into print.
According to our extensive research at the Civilian Gun Defense blog, from 2003 to 2009, there have been more than 4,100 defensive gun uses documented through local media outlets. While that 4,100 is obviously just a fraction of the millions of victims saved by defensive gun use over that period, for analysis purposes it is an ideal sample.
Historically, one of the weaknesses in arguing the issue has been the lack of research—beyond knowing that self-defense occurs, we have very few specifics. Now, with such an extensive archive available for a period of years, a systematic study offers some illuminating results.
What We Learn One of the first things we learn through analysis of media-documented self-defense episodes is that no place is “safe”—no matter the place, time of day, neighborhood or crowds, no matter how unlikely an area is for a violent confrontation. Criminals do not confine their actions to dark alleys between the witching hours of dusk and dawn. Whether it’s mothers unloading groceries from their cars, senior citizens sleeping peacefully in their homes, young adults at parties, or convenience store clerks working behind the checkout counter all have had their lives imperiled by criminals, and all have been grateful to reach for their firearms to defend themselves.
That being said, from our research it is apparent that some crimes are more common than others.
The most frequently reported crime prevented by armed citizens has been home invasion. The 1,067 home invasions thwarted by armed citizens comprise more than one-fourth of the total count. Some involve prior contact or some form of domestic abuse, but the vast majority are apparently random attacks. Clearly, the right and ability to own firearms and have them accessible within the home is the bare minimum for self-defense.
Having firearms handy at work proves just as essential. Approximately 25 percent of documented defensive gun uses occurred in places of business.
One such case of defensive gun use in July 2009 prevented an armed robber from shooting customers. Having shot the store’s owner, the gunman was preparing to shoot others when one customer pulled his “cowboy-style” .45 revolver and challenged him.
During the crossfire, the robber ran out of ammunition and was shot by the armed citizen.
As customers urged their armed defender to “finish off” the gunman, the citizen refused, saying later that he didn’t believe he would have been justified in shooting a man whose gun was empty. The robber, who incidentally was not even allowed to legally own a firearm, attempted to flee, but later succumbed to his wounds and died.
While defense in homes and businesses gives ample reason to embrace armed self-defense, in truth the need extends well beyond these walls. Other crimes such as street robbery, carjacking and road rage make a compelling case for keeping a gun within reach when one is away from the home or workplace.
A great example is a shopper in Pennsylvania who was loading his purchases in the car when he was accosted by a gunman who demanded money. The armed citizen, licensed to carry, only pulled his handgun after the robber began shooting, and was able to put an end to the incident. An Arkansas couple faced a similar threat in a store parking lot when an armed robber tried to assault the wife and steal her purse. The permit holder grabbed his gun and ordered the man to stop. When he refused, the citizen shot the man.
These stories, and thousands more like them, clearly affirm the need for personal carry of firearms. But there is another lurking factor about defensive gun use that is seldom discussed; displaying a firearm is often as effective as firing one. A few examples:
A senior citizen permit-holder displaying a gun to repel a man accosting him with a knife in a Pennsylvania eatery;
A doctor eating at a Washington restaurant, confronting a deranged robber and ordering him out;
A college student in South Carolina brandishing a handgun to fend off an enraged, bat-wielding driver.
Stories like these often go unreported, but a solid 12 percent of defensive gun uses documented by the Civilian Gun Defense blog actually occurred without a defender firing a single shot.
In fact, of the incidents where shots were fired, 16 percent did not strike the perpetrator. Of those hit, only 52 percent of the criminals died. It’s a twist on what gun critics would have you believe—firearms also may be one of the best “nonlethal” weapons!
The Flipside And what about the accidents? What about those drunken rampages, or the armed citizens who have their guns taken away and used against them, as those in opposition to firearm ownership frequently argue?
Actually, only four accidental shootings during armed self-defense episodes were documented in our sample; tragic, but statistically insignificant in the big picture. In situations involving impairment, only perpetrators were acting under the influence of alcohol or mental illness. Some of these unfortunate perpetrators (usually intoxicated persons) mistakenly broke into a home they thought was theirs and were shot by a frightened homeowner. (Since impaired persons can and do pose threats, law enforcement ruled the shootings justified.)
Note that being an armed citizen does not guarantee total safety; in the 4,100 incidents, 199 defenders were shot and 31 were killed while defending themselves or others. In the reports used for this study, these numbers represent a 5 percent injury rate and less than 1 percent fatality rate for armed citizens. Because these incidents are more likely to be reported, the real rates are likely even lower. This study does not address whether these rates would be higher or lower for passive compliance.
As for those clever and dexterous criminals who can snatch a loaded firearm from a defender’s hand, the ones you always hear about from the gun-ban crowd, a quaint irony presents itself. In this analysis, the opposite is far more common. Among the surveyed incidents, a defender’s gun was taken away and used against him or her only seven times. Criminals’ guns were used against them nearly 200 times! (Note that research methods used to filter news stories for shootings do not bias the tally either way.)
Who Shoots? Many news agencies decline to identify the defenders in order to protect their identity, concealing even the gender. From stories that did identify, the vast majority in our analysis were males, with only 11 percent of shooters being women. (Coupled with this is the fact that 95 percent of offenders were male.) Senior citizens, defined as persons over the age of 65, used firearms in their own defense 171 times (around 5 percent of total uses).
Many anti-gun advocates would grudgingly allow ownership of rifles and shotguns if they could ban all handguns. Armed citizens, however, beg to differ. Of stories identifying defender firearms, 79 percent involved handguns. Shotguns were used only 15 percent of the time, and rifles 6 percent. The message is clear: Banning handguns would remove the most common means of self-defense for most people.
Earlier we stated that bullets did not always find their mark in armed exchanges. However, hit ratios for civilians may actually be much higher than for law enforcement personnel.
In confrontational shootings, studies show police hit their targets between 13 percent and 25 percent of the time. Of the incidents analyzed in this study, civilians hit their targets 84 percent of the time. This comparison does not account for the number of shots fired, only hits or misses. Nevertheless, it gives us a statistical basis to refute claims that only police should have firearms or that civilian shooters are largely ineffective in emergencies.
Conclusion In many ways, the story of Jacksie King embodies the exact reason why firearms must always be accessible to citizens. Pacifists, anti-gun activists and critics reading self-defense stories will nearly always claim that retreating, calling the police or even letting the criminals rob you is better than shooting because “it’s not worth your life.”
For an elderly grandmother in Illinois, all of those excuses were stripped away. She could not call the police. She could not flee. Clearly she couldn’t physically resist the younger, stronger intruder. All other safety precautions were useless.
It was only her and a hardened criminal that night, and only one could come out of the episode unscathed. There was no recourse but to shoot.
Few would dare to say that King should not have fired in her own defense that night. But regardless of a citizen’s identity, condition or demographics, no one should ever deprive a free citizen of the God-given right to self-defense.