THE MISSING GUN
By JOHN R. LOTT, JR.
January 25, 2002 -- ANOTHER school shooting occurred last week and the headlines were everywhere the same, from Australia to Nigeria. This time the shooting occurred at a university, the Appalachian Law School. As usual, there were calls for more gun control.

Yet in this age of "gun-free school zones," one fact was missing from virtually all the news coverage: The attack was stopped by two students who had guns in their cars.

The fast responses of two male students, Mikael Gross, 34, and Tracy Bridges, 25, undoubtedly saved multiple lives.

Mikael was outside the law school and just returning from lunch when Peter Odighizuwa started his attack. Tracy was in a classroom waiting for class to start.

When the shots rang out, utter chaos erupted. Mikael said, "People were running everywhere. They were jumping behind cars, running out in front of traffic, trying to get away."

Mikael and Tracy did something quite different: Both immediately ran to their cars and got their guns. Mikael had to run about 100 yards to get to his car. Along with Ted Besen (who was unarmed), they approached Peter from different sides.

As Tracy explained it, "I aimed my gun at him, and Peter tossed his gun down. Ted approached Peter, and Peter hit Ted in the jaw. Ted pushed him back and we all jumped on."

What is so remarkable is that out of 280 separate news stories (from a computerized Nexis-Lexis search) in the week after the event, just four stories mentioned that the students who stopped the attack had guns.

Only two local newspapers (the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Charlotte Observer) mentioned that the students actually pointed their guns at the attacker.

Much more typical was the scenario described by the Washington Post, where the heroes had simply "helped subdue" the killer. The New York Times noted only that the attacker was "tackled by fellow students."

Most in the media who discussed how the attack was stopped said: "students overpowered a gunman," "students ended the rampage by tackling him," "the gunman was tackled by four male students before being arrested," or "Students ended the rampage by confronting and then tackling the gunman, who dropped his weapon."

In all, 72, stories described how the attacker was stopped without mentioning that the student heroes had guns.

Unfortunately, the coverage in this case was not unusual. In the other public school shootings where citizens with guns have stopped attacks, rarely do more than one percent of the news stories mention that citizens with guns stopped the attacks.

Many people find it hard to believe that research shows that there are 2 million defensive gun uses each year. After all, if these events were really happening, wouldn't we hear about them on the news? But when was the last time you saw a story on the national evening news (or even the local news) about a citizen using his gun to stop a crime?

This misreporting actually endangers people's lives. By selectively reporting the news and turning a defensive gun use story into one where students merely "overpowered a gunman" the media gives misleading impressions of what works when people are confronted by violence.

Research consistently shows that having a gun is the safest way to respond to any type of criminal attack, especially these multiple victim shootings.

John Lott is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime."


line