When Brandon Tsay disarmed a gunman who opened fire at a Monterey Park, Ca., ballroom on Jan. 21, killing 11 people, he did not have his own weapon. He wrested a semiautomatic pistol away from the shooter before he had an opportunity to attack another dance hall. Last summer, Elisjsha Dicken ended an Indiana shopping mall rampage by pulling his 9mm pistol and killing a man who had already killed three people and injured two with high-powered weapons. Two narratives: A “good guy” without a gun. A “good guy” with a gun. Whether one is more common than the other depends on the data you use. Neither is the norm, says the Washington Post fact checker. The vast majority of more than 430 “active-shooter” incidents catalogued by the FBI since 2000 ended when the shooter fled, when law enforcement killed or apprehended the shooter, or when the shooter died by suicide.
Diving into the data to determine how often citizens come to the rescue is difficult. The FBI has been publishing data on active-shooter incidents since 2000, suggesting that about three times as many citizens without a gun have ended an active-shooting incident as citizens with a gun. The FBI reports, often cited by the news media, have numerous errors and, by the FBI’s own admission, are not necessarily complete or even consistent in how criteria are applied. “Incidents identified in this study do not encompass all gun-related situations; therefore caution should be taken when using this information without placing it in context,” the FBI has said. The FBI works with the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University. ALERRT has its own data set that is slightly different from the FBI's. These data show that since 2000, citizens without a gun have halted nearly twice as many incidents (42) as citizens with guns who were not commissioned law enforcement officers (22). If security personnel or off-duty officers are excluded, the number with a gun drops to 12. John Lott., a gun rights researcher, is skeptical of the FBI data. He has compiled his own tally of “good guy with a gun” incidents that he says the FBI has missed. Including Lott’s incidents would significantly change the result — he lists more than 100 instances between 2014 and 2021, linked to news reports, when a citizen with a lawful firearm ended an active-shooting situation.