What does the data tell us about the “good guy with a gun stopping a bad guy with a gun” scenario

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I watched an interview of Adam Lankford, a professor of Criminology at the  University of Alabama, on CNN this morning. It was obvious that the interviewer’s intent was to offer up Lankford’s research as an effort to debunk — or at least cast doubt – on the “good guy with a gun stopping a bad guy with a gun”  argument offered by many seeking to limit or defeat control measures.

In this post, I am not addressing the larger issue regarding the validity of offering the intuitive argument that “good guy with a gun is the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun,” nor am I dismissing the perils of people untrained with weapons attempting to make decisions and use weapons during a crisis situation.

I am limiting my comments here to the perils of citing Lankford’s data or accepting the arguments Langford made based on his data.

Lankford offers conclusions beyond his data and does not apply proper context or controls for his data  At best, it is interesting but tepid scholarship. Lankford argues his data shows that the “good guy with a gun stopping a bad guy with a gun” scenario only happens in about 3 percent of mass shooting events because of the rapidity of such events (i.e., they are over before anyone can act). That’s true — most shooting events are over before anyone –citizens or police – can react. But to offer that data as some sort of argument against the “good guy with a gun” argument is faulty.

People carry weapons primarily for personal defense and Langford’s data does nothing to address that motivation to carry a weapon. Nor does Langford’s data treat the “good guy with a gun” capacity to  personally deterring or stop an incident personal to the carrier, their family, etc. in incidents more intimate and below the threshold of a mass shooting.

While many would be willing to help stop a shooter, as above, the circumstances  where this opportunity presents itself are exceedingly rare. However,  the “good guy with a gun stopping a bad guy with a gun” also has a meta “deterrence” component, and Lankford’s data fails to test for the hypothesis that when potential perpetrators know that a substantial number of  people are armed, they are less likely to attack such populations and to seek out softer targets.

Moreover, Lankford does not evaluate whether armed civilians were in a position to stop mass shooter. In a sloppy bit of reasoning during a CNN interview. Lankford simply cited the fact that America has a high number of guns relative to other countries. While that is certainly true and may be relevant to other facets of arguments surrounding gun control, it says nothing about the context of the mass shootings evaluated by Lankford with regard to whether there were armed citizens in a position to stop the shooting.

 

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