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The “Good Guy with a Gun” Myth

The research is clear: owning a gun does not make you or the people around you safer.

Giffords is led by a gun violence survivor who is also a gun owner.

Like Gabby, millions of law-abiding, responsible Americans own firearms for hunting, sport shooting, and other activities. Using data from debunked researchers, the gun industry has worked hard to convince potential customers that firearms, including assault weapons, are necessary for self-defense.

And this misconception sometimes leads to deadly, or nearly deadly, encounters. After my boss, Gabby Giffords, was shot in Tucson in 2011, bystanders acted quickly to disarm the shooter when he paused to reload. A wounded man grabbed the gun, while others held down the shooter. 

When another man who’d heard the shots came running out of a nearby Walgreens, his own gun drawn, he almost shot the survivor who had helped to disarm the shooter.

If he’d acted just a little quicker, exercised a little less caution, there would have been one more casualty on that terrible day. 

Despite what the gun lobby wants you to believe, the truth is that self-defensive gun use is rare, and that guns are many times more likely to be used for suicide or homicide than they are for self defense. In 2018, for every justifiable homicide with a gun, there were 34 gun homicides, 82 gun suicides, and two unintentional gun deaths. 

Here are a few more facts that counteract the gun lobby’s profit-driven fear-mongering: 

People very rarely use guns successfully to defend themselves from crimes—both in their homes and in public.

  • People successfully defend themselves with guns in less than 1% of crimes in which there is contact between a perpetrator and a victim.
  • Having access to a gun doesn’t better protect people from being injured during a crime compared to other protective actions like calling law enforcement or fleeing the scene.
  • Research indicates that carrying a firearm may increase a victim’s risk of injury when a crime is committed, with one study indicating that people in possession of a gun may be more than four times more likely to be shot in an assault.

Guns make states and people less safe—not more. 

  • States with higher rates of gun ownership have higher rates of gun death, confirming the commonsense conclusion that more guns create more opportunities for injury and death, not fewer. 
  • Bringing a gun into the home to protect against outside threats introduces new, more likely threats. Firearm access triples the risk of suicide death and doubles the risk of homicide.
  • Firearms also escalate domestic violence situations, making it five times more likely that a victim will be killed. Living in a home with a firearm significantly increases the risk of death by an unintentional gunshot injury.

Armed civilians rarely successfully intervene in mass shootings.

  • An FBI analysis of 160 active shooter incidents from 2000–2013 found that active shooter incidents were rarely stopped by armed individuals who were not law enforcement returning fire. In fact, four times as many shootings were stopped by unarmed civilians restraining the shooter.
  • The gun lobby claims that shooters target “gun free zones” because they fear a “good guy with a gun,” and that arming more people in more places will deter crime. However, most mass shooters target a specific person, group, or institution with whom they have a grievance, making it unlikely that a gun-free policy affects the choice of target.
  • No credible statistical evidence exists to show that permissive concealed carry laws reduce crime. Instead, the evidence suggests that laws that make it easier for more people to carry guns in public may actually increase the frequency of some types of violent crime, including gun homicides.

We know what will lead to less gun violence, and it’s proven gun safety laws and programs—not more guns in untrained hands. Winning gun fights is not a sensible national public safety strategy; it’s simply a fear-based marketing strategy to sell more guns. It’s long past time we do away with the myth of the crime-stopping “good guy with a gun.”