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Who is the Armed Citizen?


by David Burnett

An exhaustive study of self-defense statistics tells a broad and—in some cases—surprising story about the nature of armed self-defense in America.

Jacksie King was an elderly grandmother who lived in a small Illinois house on dead-end Gaty Avenue since her youth. At 87, she mostly stayed at home and enjoyed frequent visits from her daughter.

Her life changed one December night when an unidentified intruder cut her phone lines, pried the security bars off her window and invaded her home. After severely beating her, the man robbed her house and escaped. The case was never solved.

Two months later, King awoke to the sound of an intruder breaking through her storm door at 2 a.m. As before, the bars were pried off her window to access an enclosed porch, and again the phone lines were cut. King reached for her only remaining lifeline—a .38-cal. Colt revolver her daughter had given her for protection.

This time the would-be victim fired, striking 49-year-old Larry Tillman in the chest, immediately dropping him on the doorstep. Terrified, King stayed in her chair for four hours, clutching her revolver, until her daughter arrived. Police later learned Tillman was a career criminal with an extensive record, including residential robbery.

Readers of this magazine are accustomed to reading emotionally gripping stories like this in the “Armed Citizen” column. The fact that keeping and bearing arms actually works is a point of pride for patriots and gun owners everywhere.

Unfortunately, anti-gun groups and their conspiring cohorts in the media would have you think otherwise. Sure, they’ll report the occasional incident when a person is injured in an accidental shooting. And stories of firearms misuse by criminals are sure to lead nearly every newscast and take many top headlines.

Yet, despite what critics and the media would have you and other Americans think, successful defensive gun usage is far more common than even those on our side of the debate tend to understand. Successful defensive use of firearms in the United States actually occurs literally thousands of times a day.

The Right, the Need
Researchers, both public and private, have estimated total defensive gun uses at between 800,000 and 2.5 million times per year. To many, that’s a difficult reality to accept since we don’t hear the hundreds of armed citizen stories that should be reported daily.

Mainstream news agencies focused on national news rarely bother to report local shootings in Boise, Bismarck or Bozeman because they see no relevance to the national perspective. They’re wrong, of course, but we’re not in the control rooms so we can’t change the coverage.

Instead, the solution is to spread the word when someone uses a firearm in self-defense—to have a place where these stories are collected from local news outlets and reprinted for all to see. That’s what the “Armed Citizen” column in America’s 1st Freedom and other NRA official journals has done so well for many years, and is the most popular of all offerings to readers. As such stories accumulate, the national perspective begins to emerge—not only is there a Right to Keep and Bear Arms, but there is an urgent need.

Such stories are also likely to sway pacifists and politicians. Despite research, discussion with someone who has never fired, or even held, a gun, or who has never been in a potentially violent situation, is generally framed in abstract terms due to a lack of knowledge or experience. There’s no substitute for direct experience, yet we can’t take every critic to the range for a practice session, and we certainly can’t expose each one to the horror and dread of facing a violent situation while utterly defenseless.

Thus, providing a place where these ordinary citizens can read the testimonies and true success stories from thousands of armed citizens across the United States becomes increasingly important.

The Civilian Gun Defense blog ( is one such place. It contains no opinion, no preaching, no commentary. It hosts only stories of defensive gun use documented by local media sources around the country. While most defensive uses go unreported by local media, some do make it on the air and into print.

According to our extensive research at the Civilian Gun Defense blog, from 2003 to 2009, there have been more than 4,100 defensive gun uses documented through local media outlets. While that 4,100 is obviously just a fraction of the millions of victims saved by defensive gun use over that period, for analysis purposes it is an ideal sample.

Historically, one of the weaknesses in arguing the issue has been the lack of research—beyond knowing that self-defense occurs, we have very few specifics. Now, with such an extensive archive available for a period of years, a systematic study offers some illuminating results.

What We Learn
One of the first things we learn through analysis of media-documented self-defense episodes is that no place is “safe”—no matter the place, time of day, neighborhood or crowds, no matter how unlikely an area is for a violent confrontation. Criminals do not confine their actions to dark alleys between the witching hours of dusk and dawn. Whether it’s mothers unloading groceries from their cars, senior citizens sleeping peacefully in their homes, young adults at parties, or convenience store clerks working behind the checkout counter all have had their lives imperiled by criminals, and all have been grateful to reach for their firearms to defend themselves.

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