by Amy Swearer
I testified earlier this month at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Chicago on underlying causes of the spikes in gun violence in that city and around the country.
Although Sen. Dick Durbin’s interruptions of my opening statement stole the show in many respects, it shouldn’t be overlooked that the Illinois Democrat also solicited disparaging remarks on the right to keep and bear arms from another witness—Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown.
In direct response to one of Durbin’s questions, Brown remarked that armed civilians make police officers’ jobs more difficult, and that he never has seen a lawfully armed civilian make a situation safer.
This was certainly disappointing and should not take away from Brown’s important points with respect to underlying problems of prosecutorial leniency and anti-police sentiment that devastates police morale.
But Brown also is quite mistaken about the reality of defensive uses of firearms. Americans—including those residing in Chicago—routinely use their guns to defend themselves and others from crime, rendering themselves and their communities safer from violence.
Almost every major study on the issue has found that Americans use their firearms in self-defense between 500,000 and 3 million times annually, according to a 2013 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For this reason, The Daily Signal each month publishes an article highlighting some of the previous month’s many news stories on defensive gun use that you may have missed—or that might not have made it to the national spotlight in the first place. (Read other accounts here from 2019, 2020, and so far this year.)
The examples below represent only a small portion of the news stories on defensive gun use that we found in November. You may explore more by using The Heritage Foundation’s interactive Defensive Gun Use Database. (The Daily Signal is the multimedia news organization of The Heritage Foundation.)
- Nov. 2, Milwaukee: A woman’s ex-boyfriend tried to enter her home without her permission to “get his things,” police said, and he began to fight physically with her when she said she would bring down his possessions but that he could not come inside. Witnesses heard the woman shout, “Don’t come close to me,” before either she or her current boyfriend shot the ex-boyfriend in the leg. At the time, the ex-boyfriend had three open felony cases against him, including for firing a gun at the woman, and was not supposed to be within 500 feet of her home.
- Nov. 6, Chicago: An elderly man who holds a concealed carry permit was in a parking garage when a vehicle approached and someone with a gun got out and demanded his belongings. The permit holder drew his own gun and fatally shot the robber, police said.
- Nov. 8, St. Louis: Two persons approached a woman as she walked to her car and asked to use her phone, police said. When the woman said she didn’t have a phone on her, one of them—a 13-year-old boy—pulled out a gun and demanded her car keys and money, which she handed over. As the two robbers got into her car, the teen with the gun became distracted, giving the woman time to grab her own gun and fire at the teen, wounding him. The two fled, but responding officers later found the wounded teen and took him to a hospital before charging him as a juvenile.
- Nov. 10, Chicago: A man who was sitting on his front steps noticed two people suspiciously crawling under a car and went to confront them, police said. As he walked up, the two pulled out handguns and fired, prompting him to pull his own lawfully possessed gun and fire back, fatally wounding one gunman and causing the other to flee. The lawful gun owner—who had a valid concealed carry permit—was not hurt, police said.
- Nov. 14, Bossier City, Louisiana: A convenience store clerk fatally shot a man who walked in and demanded money while saying he had a shotgun in his pants. The would-be robber didn’t actually have a gun, police said, but did have part of a tire jack in his pants. He recently had been released from prison after doing time for robbing another convenience store in 2017.
- Nov. 16, Blytheville, Arkansas: Police said a truck driver pulled off the side of the road to adjust his trailer and someone got into the truck. When the driver attempted to pull him out of the truck’s cab, the stranger shot him. Two witnesses tried to intervene, police said, but the assailant chased them back to their car. One witness was armed, however, and shot the man after repeatedly warning him to stop. The wounded truck driver was released from the hospital; his assailant faces a charge of first-degree battery.
- Nov. 20, New Port Richey, Florida: A man shot and wounded an acquaintance who stabbed him multiple times during an argument, police said. The acquaintance, armed with a machete, followed the man into his bedroom and stood in the doorway after being told to leave, police said. The intruder stabbed the resident in the hand, chest, and side of the head before the man was able to retrieve his handgun and shoot back in self-defense. Both were treated at a hospital for injuries; the assailant was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
- Nov. 20, Philadelphia: Surveillance video captured the moment that an Uber driver with a concealed carry permit used his gun to fight off three armed robbers who demanded money at gunpoint. He fatally shot one robber and injured another while the third fled, police said.
- Nov. 21, Des Moines, Washington: A woman exchanged about 15 rounds with two armed intruders, wounding one before calling 911, police said. Responding officers found the second armed suspect outside the woman’s house and fatally shot him. The woman was not injured.
- Nov. 23, Coldwater, Michigan: A man arrived home to discover an intruder in his living room armed with a hatchet, police said. The man returned to his truck, retrieved a handgun, and held the intruder at gunpoint until police arrived.
- Nov. 26, Forest, Virginia: When a woman’s estranged husband forced his way inside her home and attacked her with a knife, another resident retrieved a handgun and fatally shot him, police said. At the time of the attack, investigators said, the estranged husband was subject to a restraining order that he already had violated several times.
- Nov. 30, Thomaston, Georgia: An armed resident shot and wounded a would-be car thief in a shootout, police said. The resident, who was not harmed, had confronted the thief after seeing him try to break into a vehicle.
It’s possible that Brown, Chicago’s police superintendent, is unaware how routine these types of defensive gun uses are, both in his city and around the nation.
And it’s certainly true that armed criminals make life more difficult for law enforcement officers, and that sometimes officers make tragic mistakes in the heat of the moment, mistaking lawful gun owners for criminals.
But, respectfully, law enforcement officers already have little idea who around them is carrying a firearm, whether lawfully or unlawfully.
The fact that it might be more difficult to tell a “good guy” with a gun from a “bad guy” with a gun is not a valid reason for government to further restrict the exercise of constitutional rights.
It certainly doesn’t negate the plethora of times that law-abiding citizens swiftly and safely act as their own first line of defense against criminals when police can’t get there in time.
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Amy Swearer is a legal fellow in the Edwin Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.