On Friday’s World News with Charles Gibson on ABC, substitute anchor Diane Sawyer previewed the same night’s special on guns in America, "If I Only Had a Gun," and, on World News, ran a report focusing on how challenging it is to react to a gunman when taken by surprise, even if one is armed. ABC News enlisted the services of police officers to train college students in firearm use and then had the students react to one of the officers as he pretended to be a crazed gunman and burst into a small lecture room. Sawyer informed viewers: "Our training is already more than almost half the states in the country require to carry a concealed weapon."
The report documented that all of the trained students performed poorly in trying to defend themselves. Sawyer narrated a clip of one such botched attempt at self-defense: "Joey struggles to get his gun out, but it's stuck in his shirt. He can't even get it out to aim it. Had this event been real, police say Joey would have been killed in the first five seconds." Each of the students taking part appeared to be wearing a T-shirt which the concealed handgun was tucked underneath.
But the report only focused on this one narrow scenario in which the law-abiding citizen is taken by surprise by a skilled gunman, while the report ignores other scenarios and crime situations when the record shows that armed citizens do sometimes succeed when forced to confront criminals.
In the May 31, 1999, National Review article, "Why New Gun Laws Won’t Work," University of Chicago Professor John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, wrote about two then-recent school shooting sprees that were cut short when an armed citizen in each case used his own weapon to capture the gunman. Lott:
In October 1997, after a shooter had killed two students at a high school in Pearl, Miss., assistant principal Joel Myrick retrieved a gun from his car and immobilized him until the police arrived. An April 1998 school-related shooting in Edinboro, Pa., which left a teacher dead, was stopped by nearby restaurant owner James Strand, who pointed a shotgun at the shooter as he was reloading his gun. The police did not arrive until eleven minutes later.
Lott also pointed out the scant media attention given to the role of guns in halting the gunmen before they could continue their shooting sprees:
Most news coverage of these incidents ignored the role of guns in ending the bloodshed. In the month following the Mississippi shooting, only 19 of the 687 stories on the episode mentioned Myrick. Some of those said only that he had "disarmed the shooter." In a later story on CBS, Dan Rather noted only that "Myrick eventually subdued the young gunman." Similarly, only 35 of the 596 stories on the Pennsylvania crime mentioned Strand, with the New York Daily News explaining that he had "persuaded [the shooter] to surrender" and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution claiming that he had "chased [the shooter] down and held him until police came." Five school-related shootings occurred in the 1997-98 school year. One might have thought that the fact that two of them were stopped by guns would register in the public debate over such shootings.
Below is a complete transcript of the report from the Friday, April 10, World News with Charles Gibson on ABC:
DIANE SAWYER: In all, last month, 53 people died in gun rampages in America. Over the past year, a surge in the purchase of new guns. Tonight, ABC News will bring you the result of a year-long exploration of guns, self-defense and child safety. It’s called "If I Only Had a Gun." And police ask: If you had a gun, can you be sure you could use it in a crisis?
After all the recent mass shootings, a question: Could an ordinary citizen count on being able to defend himself if he only had a gun? The Bethlehem Pennsylvania Police Department, working with ABC News, created an experiment, to show what happens when average Americans react under stress. At Wheelenburg College, the police go over gun basics with students. The gun is real but filled with paint ammunition. Our training is already more than almost half the states in the country require to carry a concealed weapon. Joey Dolan thinks he’ll be good at self-defense since he’s spent countless hours hitting the target using a gun that shoots plastic pellets. The police tell him he has one of our guns to use in a test of self-defense later. In the meantime, it’s a lecture.
Suddenly, the room under attack. The instructor is down, a student hit. Joey struggles to get his gun out, but it’s stuck in his shirt. He can’t even get it out to aim it. Had this event been real, police say Joey would have been killed in the first five seconds. Look at how your body undermines your decisions and your accuracy with a gun in crisis. Under extreme stress, your blood is actually pulled from your skin toward your muscles in case you need to flee, your heart pumping three to four times the normal rate. Your hands have less blood. They’re less dextrous. Your reaction’s delayed. Like this student, who freezes in his seat, hands on his desk. In seconds, he’s peppered with shots.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE STUDENT: No one ever gets hit in the movies, obviously. In real life, I got hit like five, six times.
SAWYER: And, while this woman started firing right after the armed intruder burst into the room, she makes a terrible error. She stands up and takes a hit to the head even though she believes she has already taken out the intruder.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE STUDENT: I think I hit you in the head, wasn’t it, at the top of the- [UNIDENTIFIED MALE POLICE OFFICER #1 POINTS TO HIS LEG] Oh, I got you there.
SAWYER: And what about the risk that you’ll hit an innocent bystander. This woman comes within inches. Which is why police spend months and months training in ways designed to override the adrenaline and pounding heart in a crisis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE POLICE OFFICER #2: -rounds coming back at you, you got outside environments, people are screaming, running. It’s too much for a normal person who’s never been trained to deal with. It’s overwhelming.
SAWYER: Police say so many of us don’t really know what we could and could not do in a crisis with a gun.UNIDENTIFIED MALE POLICE OFFICER #1: Don’t put yourself in a situation unless you are truly confidently prepared for it because, without training, you lose it.
SAWYER: And police also ask: Do you know the risk of hitting an innocent bystander? We have much more tonight on this special with children with teenagers. Again, it’s called "If I Only Had a Gun." It’s tonight at 10:00 Eastern time.