New data says you stopped mass murder most of the time

We live in a media-driven culture. We also have government agencies putting out biased reports that serve their political masters. It is rare that the media even questions the agency reports. That wouldn’t matter, but many of us confuse media headlines with facts. I’ve seen people on Facebook say that there were hundreds of “mass shootings” this year and that our children are not safe in school any longer. They are wrong, and you stop mass-murder most of the time.

Please let me pose a different question.

If an ordinary citizen stops mass-murder and the mainstream media refuses to report it, did it really happen?

According to the FBI, the answer is almost always “No!”

I am a data geek, and I love to explore the deeper questions around public events. For example, how do we define “mass-murder”, and has that definition changed? How are the murderers stopped? It turns out that you get wildly different answers depending on subtle changes in the questions you ask.

To start, “mass shooting” is a relatively recent term. There is no FBI definition of it. By some accounts, there is a “mass shooting” in Chicago almost every night. We don’t have good historical data on “mass-shootings” from year to year. We could almost say that “mass shootings” are everything that isn’t a “mass-murder.”

The term “mass-murder” was used by criminologists and statisticians to describe a specific type of violence. There, a murderer killed four or more people in a public place, excluding the death of the murderer. Also, the mass-murder was not part of a larger crime like a robbery or gang-on-gang gunfight. The murders occurred in the same place and at approximately the same time in order to distinguish a mass-murderer from a serial killer. Furthermore, the attacker and victims were not related like a murder-suicide where someone kills their family and then kills themselves.

The real definition of mass-murder hasn’t changed over time, though some have tried. In contrast, our understanding of the murderer and his motives has changed profoundly. We now recognize two broad classes of mass-murderers. Some are nihilists who hate the world. Others are narcissists who murder for fame. The frequency of murderous crazy people has increased slowly, if at all. We are seeing more narcissists who witness the 24-7 media-culture and ache to be recognized. They are willing to die to be famous.

Add to that cultural change the additional problem of biased federal agencies. The FBI reported that there were 302 mass murders from 2014 to 2022. The FBI only recognized 14 cases where a citizen who was not an on-duty law enforcement officer or a security guard stopped the attack. Fortunately for us, economist Dr. John Lott decided to dig a little deeper. The truth that Dr. Lott uncovered should profoundly change the discussion about public violence.

Lott found examples of attempted mass-murders that the FBI either missed or ignored. According to his research, ordinary citizens stopped mass-murder 157 times, or 35.7% of the time. Lott also thought to ask a profound question.

We can’t expect ordinary citizens to defend the public when those ordinary citizens are disarmed by law. Dr. Lott looked to see if the attack occurred in a so called “gun-free zone”. Two remarkable things leap out when you bother to ask that question.

First, Lott found that mass-murderers attacked “gun-free zones” about 98% of the time. No wonder honest citizens didn’t stop these murderers. Law abiding gun owners were disarmed by a plastic sign that the murderers walked right past. The horrific death toll wasn’t because the murderers had a weapon that was extraordinarily lethal. The high body count was because none of the victims had any tool at all to defend themselves. Politicians and corporate risk managers created an environment full of disarmed victims.

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Second, armed citizens usually stop mass-murderers when the attack occurs in places where ordinary citizens are allowed to be armed. There, “the percentage of active shootings that were stopped is 51%.” In 2021 that figure rose to 58%, and to a remarkable 63.5% in 2022.

I had to stop for a moment to let that sink in. The mass-murderer gets to choose the time, the place, and the means of his attack. Despite those massive advantages, we stop him almost two-thirds of the time when we’re allowed to defend ourselves. It turns out that mass-murder is much harder than it first appears if any of the victims are armed.

Society changes with time. The news media helped create celebrity seeking mass-murderers for the last several decades. In the last few years, politicians created a proliferation of “gun-free zones” where mass-murderers go to hunt. Now we know that armed citizens stop mass-murder. We want more of that.

That is profound. Ordinary citizens stopped about 1,800 murders, and for some reason, the mainstream media and the FBI ignored it. We can learn a lot from the stories the mainstream media refuses to talk about.

Rob Morse writes about gun rights at his SlowFacts blog and hosts the Self Defense Gun Stories Podcast and co-hosts the Polite Society Podcast.

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