Diane Sawyer rigs mass shooting experiment on 20/20

By Dean Rieck

Do you think it's a good idea to be armed during a mass shooting? Diane Sawyer and the producers of ABC's 20/20 aren't so sure. In fact, on Friday, April 10, 2009, Sawyer spent a full hour trying desperately to prove how dangerous guns are and how ordinary people can't possibly defend themselves with firearms. The show's snarky title: "If I Only Had A Gun."

Slanted information filled the report, seemingly pulled from the press releases of the Brady Campaign, with not a single dissenting opinion. The most egregious slight of hand was a rigged experiment that struggled to show why having a gun would do you no good in a Virginia Tech style mass shooting.

The scenario played out in a classroom filled with ABC employees and police posing as students. At the far end sat the "victim," a young, wide-eyed man whose experience consisted primarily of shooting pop cans with an Airsoft gun in his back yard.

Everyone in the room wore a large, protective helmet, bulky gloves, and a white shirt to show "hits" from paint-filled rounds. The victim carried a Glock in a belt holster. To add "realism" to the scene, the show producers instructed all the other students to scream, run, and panic.

The experiment started as the students sat listening to a lecture about protective gear. The victim had been told the experiment would be later in the day, but the armed "shooter" entered the room suddenly and calmly proceeded to shoot the lecturer then turned and immediately aimed at the victim. As the other students ran and screamed on cue, the young man fumbled with the Glock, getting it caught in his shirt and taking a hit to the head and chest.

The show's conclusion? Having a gun doesn't protect you. Ordinary people aren't trained to handle stress. You might shoot innocent people. The bad guy might take your gun from you.

So having a gun is pointless, right? Well, hold on. Let's take a closer look at that experiment.

  • The victim wore a helmet and bulky gloves. Obviously there was a safety issue, so the helmet is understandable. But why the gloves? They appeared too large. They certainly made drawing and firing a handgun far more difficult than it should be. I've run through scenarios similar to this and never wore gloves. Hits sting, but they don't hurt.
  • The victim carried an unfamiliar gun and holster. Is that the gun he would have actually carried? Is that the holster he would have used? The video showed the holster placed in an awkward position and at a difficult angle, not likely the way the young man would have carried the gun in real life.
  • The victim had to draw from concealment under a long shirt. Is this the shirt he would really wear? Did he receive any instruction on drawing from a holster, with gloves, from that oddly placed holster, from beneath that long shirt? We'll never know, but the video didn't show any training beyond a little ordinary target practice at short range.
  • The shooter knew there was an armed student in the classroom. This is a big error in the experiment. What mass shooter would enter a room where he knew there was someone with a gun to shoot back?
  • The shooter shot the lecturer first, then turned directly to the young man and began firing. How convenient it was for the shooter to know who was armed and where he was sitting so he could quickly take out the one and only threat in the room.
  • The shooter knew he could be fired at, but showed no surprise at the sight of a gun. The experiment was repeated with other "victims" under the same circumstances and not once did the shooter react in surprise. In real life, a shooter won't expect any resistance and is likely to react when shot at.
  • The shooter was a professional firearm instructor and a good shot under stress. Not exactly realistic, since real mass murderers are usually just insane people with guns.

In other words, this experiment was rigged. The armed student was set up to fail.

Let's be clear. A real violent encounter will be confusing and terrifying. It's likely you'll make mistakes. Every competent firearm instructor will tell you this. But Sawyer acted as if stress reactions such as narrowed vision and loss of fine motor control were frightening revelations and proof that guns are useless in a violent encounter.

Worse, this experiment says little about carrying a concealed weapon other than Diane Sawyer and her crew mistakenly think it's a bad idea. In real life, the shooter won't expect you to be armed. He won't know who or where you are. He'll be surprised when you start shooting back. You won't be hampered by gloves or a helmet or a situation designed to get you killed. There are no guarantees. But carrying a gun CAN level the playing field with an active shooter.

And what did Sawyer suggest you do instead of carry a gun? Carry a cell phone. That's right. A CELL PHONE. Yes, you'll fumble with a gun and get yourself killed in five seconds. But somehow you'll have plenty of time to draw a phone, dial 911 with your fine motor control intact, and calmly chat with a dispatcher while waiting 10 or 20 minutes for authorities to arrive, set up a base of operations, and try to figure out how to save you without getting themselves killed.

Did Sawyer talk to anyone who thought carrying a gun was a good idea? No. Did she consider any statistics about how often ordinary people defend themselves with a gun? No. Did she get a statement from the NRA, a police officer, an instructor, or a citizen with even a hint that a gun might possibly give you an advantage? No. She didn't even bother to talk to John Stossel, a fellow reporter whose office is down the hall at ABC, reports for 20/20, and has debunked anti-gun propaganda on many occasions.

What should we conclude? Was this a deliberate attempt to hide the truth? Or was it yet another display of ignorance on the part of the elite media? Does it matter? It was a poorly executed experiment that delivered a half truth at best, a lie at worst.

Do I think it's a good idea to be armed during a mass shooting? Yes. Because even if I make every mistake in the book under stress, I'd rather have a small chance than no chance. And frankly, if I'm going to get killed, I don't want it to be for lack of shooting back.

And maybe - just maybe - if the media stopped telling people that passivity is a survival strategy and started telling people that aggressive resistance might save you, perhaps we'd see fewer mass shootings. Why? For the same reason mass shootings seldom happen in police stations. The sick, cowardly lunatics who do these shootings want soft targets and a high body count. The fewer soft targets, the fewer mass shootings.

Dean Rieck is the Marketing Director of Second Call Defense and a Leader with Buckeye Firearms Association.

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