A new report from the Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC) argues that the FBI’s data contains “massive errors” when tracking active shooting incidents, undercounting how often armed citizens have thwarted active-shooting situations over the last eight years.
“Although collecting such data is fraught with challenges, some see a pattern of distortion in the FBI numbers because the errors almost exclusively go one way, minimizing the life-saving actions of armed citizens,” the report, which was provided to Fox News Digital this week by Crime Prevention Research Center founder and president John Lott, states.
Data released by the nonprofit shows that 34.4% of active shootings were thwarted by armed citizens between 2014 and 2021. However, FBI data show only 4.4% of active shootings were thwarted by armed citizens during that time period.
All in, 360 active shooter incidents were identified by CPRC between 2014 and 2021, with 124 stopped by armed citizens. The FBI identified 252 active shooter incidents during the same time period, with only 11 thwarted by armed citizens.
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“Whether deliberately through bias or just incompetence, the FBI database of active shooters cannot be trusted,” Gary Mauser, an emeritus professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada, argues in the report.
The FBI defines an active shooter as “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” The definition does not include crimes related to criminal activities such as robberies or gang wars.
The report points to two variables that have caused the discrepancies between the FBI data and the group’s research: misclassified shootings and overlooked incidents.
The research argues that the FBI misclassified at least five cases, including two cases where citizens with valid firearm licenses thwarted a shooting, but the citizens were not listed in the report because police ultimately apprehended the suspects. The other three misidentified cases include one where “the FBI simply failed to mention citizen engagement at all,” and two others that categorized armed civilians as armed security members.
The discrepancies also are reflected in the FBI apparent oversight in not including 25 cases that likely would have been mass shootings and thwarted by armed citizens, according to the report. That is in addition to another 83 active shooting incidents that were not detailed in FBI data.
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Multiple instances of armed individuals thwarting potential mass shootings have played out this year, most notably in Indiana when legally-armed 22-year-old Elisjsha Dicken engaged an active shooter at a mall and was lauded for preventing more deaths.
“His actions were nothing short of heroic,” Greenwood Police Chief James Ison said in July of Dicken. “He engaged the gunman from quite a distance with a handgun. He was very proficient in that, very tactically sound. And as he moved to close in on the suspect, he was also motioning for people to exit behind him.”
Liberal-leaning media outlets jumped on the story and downplayed it, arguing that it is rare for a legal gun owner to stop a mass shooting. Some news stories pointed to the FBI data as evidence such instances are rare.
The report notes that CPRC approached the FBI with discrepancies in their reporting in August, but “the FBI declined to address them.”
The FBI directed Fox News Digital to page 2 of the agency’s 2021 active shooting report when approached for comment on the CPRC report and the discrepancies it found.
“The FBI works proactively to identify incidents that meet the scope of our study, using internal FBI holdings and repositories, official law enforcement reports (when obtainable), as well as open-source data. There is no mandated database collection or central intake point for reporting active shooter incidents, which exists for other crimes. If additional incidents meeting FBI criteria are identified after the publication of the document, every effort is made to factor those incidents into future reporting,” the FBI report states.
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The October CPRC report also detailed how often armed citizens thwarted potential mass shootings or mass shootings in areas where guns are allowed, as opposed to the increasingly more common gun-free zones found in some states and cities.
Between 2014 and 2021, there were 204 active shooting incidents carried out in areas that allowed people to carry firearms, according to the data. Out of the 204 cases, 104 of them were thwarted by an armed citizen, meaning 51% of attacks were thwarted by people legally carrying concealed handguns, according to the report.
“When I was at the Department of Justice, they just refused to go and look at this. And that is whether the active shooting event occurred in a place where guns are banned. And the reason why that’s important is that if you have a place where guns are banned, it’s very likely that the law-abiding civilian is going to obey the rules that are there, and you can’t expect them to stop these types of attacks,” Lott told Fox News Digital.
Lott noted in a Real Clear Investigations piece in August that law enforcement departments do not compile active shooter reports to the FBI, and that the FBI largely relies on news reports. The FBI contracts studies of active shooters out to the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University.
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“There is no reason to think that the news media covers all the cases where civilians stopped attacks. And the farther back in time we go, the more cases we are likely to miss,” the October report notes.
The report found the farther back in history researchers go to examine armed citizens thwarting attacks, the more likely cases will be missed. Data from the nonprofit in 2021, for example, shows 49.1% of active shootings were thwarted, with that percentage decreasing each year going back to 2014; 2020 saw 45.1% of active shootings stopped, while 2019 recorded 42.1% of such crimes were thwarted and 2018 recorded 39.4%, according to CPRC.
Other crime experts have also pointed out that media reports detailing armed citizens thwarting crimes cannot accurately capture the full picture. An armed citizen, for example, can merely display their firearm to thwart a crime or attack, which can oftentimes go unreported by police.
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“National surveys find that firearms are rarely fired when used to stop a violent attack,” Professor Mauser told Real Clear Investigations last year. “Such cases are unlikely to be reported to the police, and even less likely to be found in media stories. Relying upon media stories would greatly underestimate the true number of defensive gun uses.”
The October report notes that even CPRC likely missed some incidents as they were likely not covered by the media in a way that would hit the center’s radar.
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