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Good Guys, Bad Guys and Guns

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LAS VEGAS SHOOTING
Ethan Miller via Getty Images

Joseph Robert Wilcox, 31-years old of Las Vegas, is a hero. Trouble is, he's a dead hero. "Joseph died trying to protect others," Sheriff Doug Gillespie said.

Wilcox's death is the latest evidence that gun-crazies, like the National Rifle Association's leader Wayne La Pierre, are dead wrong in arguing that the only solution to gun crime is more guns. Or, as La Pierre once foolishly put it: "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

Would that were true of Wilcox, a good guy with a gun if ever there was one. He was shot down in a Las Vegas Walmart before he had a chance to use his weapon. Wilcox was shopping there last Sunday when a husband-and-wife pair of right-wing, swastika-bearing lunatics, Jerad and Amanda Miller, ran into the store after senselessly murdering two policemen eating at a pizza parlor across the street.

Armed with a shotgun, four handguns and 200 rounds of ammunition, the married murderers busted in shouting about revolution. Jerad fired a single shot. Wilcox, who was standing behind Jerad, pulled out his legally registered pistol and told a friend he was going to confront the shooter. What he didn't know was that Amanda had managed to get behind him. She shot him before he could fire his handgun and before police arrived and surrounded the couple, who then killed themselves.

To hear the NRA and its allies tell it, about the only thing keeping this country from criminal chaos is those good guys with the guns. They argue that unlike cases such as the Wilcox tragedy, the good guys either use their weapons successfully or, far more often, the fear that a good guy might be carrying keeps bad guys from committing more crimes. Or so the argument goes.

The trouble is that isn't true, according to study after study. But many of the same fools, and others, who deny the truth of evolution and global warming, choose to believe it anyway. They ignore research like the 2009 survey by Professor Charles Branas at the University of Pennsylvania that showed Philadelphians who carry guns are far likelier to get shot -- and killed -- than those unarmed.

The researchers compared 677 cases in which people were injured in a shooting incident with 684 people living in the same area that had not suffered a gun injury. The researchers matched these "controls" for age, race and gender. They found that those with firearms were about 4.5 times more likely to be shot than those who did not carry...[and 4.2 times as likely to get killed].

[T]he Branas study also found that for individuals who had time to resist and counter in a gun assault, the odds of being shot actually increased to 5.45 fold relative to an individual not carrying.

Numerous other studies confirm this. Prof. David Hemenway of Harvard's school of public health has found that defensive gun use is rarely successful. Instead, owning and using a gun greatly increases the chance of being shot.

How about good guys shooting bad guys? Not likely, according to a 2008 RAND Corporation study of firearms use by the New York City Police Department, which found that:

[B]etween 1998 and 2006, the average hit rate during gunfights was just 18 percent. When suspects did not return fire, police officers hit their targets 30 percent of the time.

If that exceedingly modest record is the best officers of the nation's biggest and arguably best-trained police department can compile, does anyone really think that the vast majority of less-trained civilian gun carriers can do nearly as well? I sure don't.

Studies done years ago agree with the more recent ones that owning or carrying a firearm is more dangerous to the law-abiding citizen than to a criminal troublemaker. A 1976 study by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, an arm of the Justice Department, produced these findings:

[A] gun in the home is far more likely to led to the death or injury of a family member or friend than the death of an intruder...

[P]rivate handgun ownership provides no significant deterrent to burglary and violent crime. It may, in fact, escalate the severity of the violence if offenders believe they must be more heavily armed than the citizenry. The statistics also showed that the use of a weapon in resistance to a criminal attack usually results in greater probability of bodily injury or death to the victim. In circumstances where the offender is armed, non-resistance most likely resulted in the minimum amount of harm to the victim.

Of course, the gun lobby has its academic supporters. Best known is Professor John Lott, who's taught at Yale, Penn and Chicago universities. The title of one of his books sums up Lott's view: More Guns, Less Crime. He argues that permitting concealed gun carry leads to significantly less crime.

Some other academics support Lott's thesis. But the National Research Council, an arm of the federal government's National Academy of Sciences, overwhelmingly rejected it, concluding instead that it "found no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime..."

Lott has also been criticized for using flawed statistics. And he's even admitted creating a phony fan for himself on the Internet. For three years, Lott posted online under the name of an imaginary former student named "Mary Rosh," fraudulently defending himself against critics and ridiculously describing himself as "the best professor I ever had."

As for the unlucky hero of this story, Joseph Wilcox, his uncle said he wasn't trying to be a hero, just doing what he thought was right. "He heard the threat to everyone and he was trying to stop it."

Joseph's mother agreed. "He was very protective of every one," she said. Now, besides her grief, Debra Wilcox has another problem. Her son didn't have a job. And she said she has no money for his funeral expenses.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that a memorial fund for this unfortunate good guy with a gun has been set up at the Wells Fargo Bank in Las Vegas. Donations were also being accepted at two Dunkin' Donuts stores in the city.