“There are several responses to a potential crime. You can run, call 911, or yell your head off. Studies show that these methods are as effective as pulling out a gun.”
– Mike Weisser, aka “Mike the Gun Guy,” a former gun seller (Welch, 2016)
Another erroneous conclusion people make when it comes to the gun-carry debate is to assume that if you don’t have a gun when someone else does, this would automatically render you a “sitting duck”; that you’d have absolutely no way to defend yourself or to escape the situation. This simply isn’t true. In addition to the fact that having a gun to confront an attacker actually increases your risk of dying, there are plenty of less lethal ways to defend yourself.
In fact, because most gun fights occur in close quarters, other means of defense are often just as effective as having a gun. The passengers who stopped the notorious “shoe bomber” on an airline flight did so through hand-to-hand combat. The three men who stopped a deadly terrorist attack on a Paris train, thus saving dozens of lives, accomplished this without a gun. They did so by bravely tackling the man. One of the heroes was shot before he could reach the attacker, but his bravery allowed the other men the opportunity to subdue him. He also survived and made a full recovery.
In another incident, 3 construction workers working outside a school tackled and subdued a gunman who was firing at kids playing on a southern California school playground. Two girls were wounded, but expected to recover. No children were killed. (Bacon, 2010) When a gunman opened fire at a Waffle House in Nashville, Tennessee, he was subdued by a customer who wrestled the AR-15 riffle out of his hand as the gunman was reloading. He then threw the gun over the counter, ending the incident. (Mahtani, 2018)
First-year teacher Megan Silber Berger was confronted with every teacher’s worst nightmare: An angry teen with a gun who was walking around shooting people. He had already shot 4 people in the head – two boys and two girls. She didn’t have a gun, yet she was able to stop this shooting in her school. She simply moved the attacker’s hand away as the 14-year-old pointed the weapon. In the ensuing scuffle he ended up shooting himself in the neck. (Gomez, 2014) Ron Borsch, a police trainer in Ohio who has kept a database of mass shootings since the Columbine shooting, states that roughly two-thirds of mass shootings are stopped by civilians, nearly all of whom are unarmed. (Ripley, 2013)
When a student opened fire in a 7th grade classroom at Noblesville West Middle School in Indiana, it was an unarmed science teacher, Jason Seaman, who prevented tragedy. “Our science teacher immediately ran at him, swatted a gun out of his hand and tackled him to the ground,” said seventh-grade student Ethan Stonebraker. “If it weren’t for him, more of us would have been injured for sure.” One student was shot 3 times and underwent surgery, and the teacher was also injured. (Wall Street Journal, May 26, 2018, p. A4) But a potentially much larger tragedy was averted.
Jared Loughner, the young man who shot Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and many others, unloaded an entire magazine in 15 seconds – so quick that even if a concealed weapons carrier had been right there when the shooting started, it probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference (if any). But when he had to reload, citizens nearby were able to tackle him and put an immediate halt to the attack … and almost had tragedy strike a second time when someone with a gun recklessly burst onto the scene and nearly killed one of the good Samaritans by mistake.
Time and time again, when these tragedies are averted, it’s seldom because a concealed weapons carrier saved the day. (In fact, we know of only one case where someone successfully intervened in a shooting: an incident at a Colorado Springs church.) Usually it’s because those nearby tackle the shooter. In fact, if we really wanted to prevent mass shootings, we should train people in the art of bear hugging and teach them to run straight at the person with the gun. It’s hard to shoot people and wrestle at the same time.
Having a weapon can even put you at a distinct disadvantage. Back when I was in martial arts, something one of the resident black belts said to me during a defense against weapons class has always stuck with me: If someone has a weapon, you always know exactly what they’re going to do. If someone is holding a baseball bat, you can take an educated guess that they’re not going to come at you with a sidekick. They’re not going to be swinging their fists or hitting you with knees and elbows. It’s pretty much a guarantee that they’re going to try to attack you with that baseball bat they have in their hands. This means that the moment someone picks up a weapon, their attack becomes one-dimensional, even predictable.
This may give those without a gun an edge they can use against someone who is committing a shooting. An active shooter’s entire focus is going to be on that weapon and whatever is in front of it, leaving him vulnerable on 3 sides. If you keep him from using that weapon, by holding it up or holding his arms, he has one of two choices: 1) Drop the weapon, 2) Wrestle with you at a distinct disadvantage, because both arms are preoccupied with trying to keep hold of that weapon. Either scenario is good for you. While we don’t intend to imply that this is always an easy thing to do or that nothing could go wrong, the point is that those without a gun may do just as well against an armed attacker in close quarters as someone with a gun.
The same story holds true when it comes to less-violent crimes. In Greenburg, New York, some good Samaritans were able to prevent a woman from being abducted by her ex-boyfriend, and they managed this without a gun. (USA Today, 10-19-2015, p. 4A) One customer foiled a bank robbery by angrily scolding the would-be robber for cutting ahead in line. A bank teller then told the man to take off his hoodie and wait his turn. The potential robber left the bank without incident. (The Week, 9-9-2011, p. 4)
Dispelling the illusion of the “armed advantage”
“It’s not as if you look at the data, and it says people who defend themselves with a gun are much less likely to be injured,” says Philip Cook, a Duke University economist who has been studying the issue since the 1970s. True to this principle, a 2015 study by David Hemenway and his colleagues that analyzed 5 years worth of National Crime Victimization Survey data found that using a gun in self-defense was no more effective than other means of defense, such as calling for help. (Wenner-Moyer, 2017)
Given all the people who were able to protect themselves and others without a gun – and especially considering all the people WITH a gun who either made things worse or got themselves killed in the process – it’s safe to say that those without guns are just as likely to survive and save the day as those with them.