Facts About Firearm Policy Initiative

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MYTH: A concealed handgun permit holder has never shot the wrong person during an attack

  • In his 2020 book, Gun Control Myths, researcher John Lott claims a concealed handgun permit holder has never shot the wrong person, such as a bystander.
  • Lott repeats this claim in a January 2021 opinion piece in Newsweek
  • No reliable database exists of incidents cataloging concealed permit holders who shot unintended targets. 
  • The media does not consistently provide details regarding a shooter’s concealed permit holder status., However, several instances of permit holders shooting the wrong person have been identified.
  • During attempts to stop attacks, concealed carry permit holders have unintentionally shot bystanders. In addition, they have unintentionally shot family members, friends, and strangers. 

Lott’s Claim:

In his 2020 book Gun Control Myths, Lott disputes that concealed carry permit holders who attempt to stop an attack increase the confusion during the attack and can unintentionally shoot  the wrong person.

In his 2020 book Gun Control Myths, Lott insists that concealed carry permit holders have never shot “the wrong person.” He cites the Tucson mass shooting in which six people were killed and thirteen were wounded by gunfire, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Concealed carry holder Joe Zamudio was in the area of the shooting that tragic day, heard the gunshots, and ran to the scene. Unknown to him, unarmed civilians had already disarmed the shooter. Zamudio, however, came within seconds of shooting the innocent bystander. Zamudio said he was “very lucky” that he didn’t shoot the wrong person in the confusion.

As Lott addresses the issue, he writes, “So much of the gun control debate is about what hypothetically might go wrong. But let’s look at the actual reality. Below, I list instances of permit holders intervening in attacks from 2014 through early 2019. There were also many such interventions prior to 2014, but not a single known case of a permit holder shooting the wrong person.” 

Lott further argues that “if a permit holder were to shoot a bystander, it seems clear that such an event would get news coverage.” 

In a January 2021 opinion piece in Newsweek, Lott writes, “Advocates of gun-free zones claim that permit holders will accidentally shoot bystanders, or that arriving police will shoot permit holders…[P]olice virtually always arrive well after the attack has ended, so there isn’t confusion about who the target ought to be.”

The Facts: 

Contrary to Lott’s claim, permit holders have unintentionally shot the wrong person. Because public mass shootings are rare events relative to other types of gun violence, it is extremely rare for a concealed permit holder to be present during a public mass shooting and choose to intervene. While there are incidents where a concealed carry holder has helped bring an end to an attack, there are also instances where the permit holder missed the target and shot a bystander. Please note that these lists are not comprehensive.

  • On November 9, 2020, a concealed permit holder missed her intended targets and shot her 21-month-old baby. The dispute began when a Detroit woman ate her neighbor’s delivered meal after it had been sitting untouched on the porch for half an hour. When the permit holder came to her porch to retrieve the meal she ordered, an argument broke out involving several people. The permit holder pulled out a gun and started shooting at neighbors standing in front of her car. She missed her intended targets and accidentally shot her 21-month-old baby in the hip. Capt. Ian Severy of Detroit Police said, “I don’t know if I can adequately find the words for the feeling I get when anytime a child or an innocent person of any sort, is the victim of violence. It is disgusting, quite frankly.”
  • On September 7, 2020, an argument broke out between two men during a Labor Day party in Detroit. After party goers tried to separate them, both men allegedly pulled out guns and began shooting. One of the men, a 24-year-old concealed handgun permit holder, was fatally wounded after firing several shots. A 29-year-old woman at the party was also shot in the crossfire. At the time of the publication of this post, authorities have not been able to determine which man shot the female bystander.
  • On August 31, 2020, a 61-year-old man was bit in the leg by his neighbor’s dog. The victim’s friend, a concealed carry permit holder, fatally shot the dog and unintentionally shot his friend in his other leg.
  • On June 16, 2020, two retired police officers working as security guards responded to a patient attacking a nurse at a hospital in Munster, Illinois. After the patient was in a chokehold, one of the security officers, Benny Freeman, a former sniper on a SWAT team, fired two shots, fatally killing both the patient and the other security guard.
  • On May 7, 2019, two teenagers opened fire at STEM School Highland Ranch in Colorado, killing one and injuring seven. An eighth student was unintentionally shot by an armed security guard with a concealed carry permit. The campus security guard said he fired two rounds after seeing a muzzle come around the corner, but the gun belonged to a sheriff’s deputy. The school did not know the security guard was armed. John McDonald, head of security at Jeffco Public Schools, told the Denver Post that untrained armed individuals can make a bad situation worse and “There’s no way for anybody in uniform to know who a good guy or a bad guy is” when they see a person with a gun.
  • On September 26, 2015, a man witnessed a carjacking at a Houston gas station. The witness fired at the carjackers, but unintentionally shot the victim of the carjacking. After picking up his shell casings, the shooter left the scene without waiting for the police to arrive.
  • On May 17, 2012, two armed men attempted to rob a Houston Family Dollar store just before closing. Customer Kevin Simon, who police say had a concealed handgun license, drew his gun and fired at the robbers. The store’s assistant manager was fatally shot and the two armed men fled in a customer’s car.

GVPedia identified several instances of armed permit holders unintentionally shooting someone when an attack was not occurring:

  • On December 12, 2020, a concealed carry permit holder dropped his gun at an Evansville Cracker Barrel restaurant. One round discharged when the handgun hit the ground, giving a female bystander minor injuries.  
  • On February 1, 2020, concealed handgun permit holder Antion Haywood was “very drunk” when he left Gene’s Supper Club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Haywood fired his gun through his car’s sunroof. Although he wasn’t targeting anyone, a bullet hit a pregnant mother of five in a party bus. The woman died, but her child survived after an emergency C-section.
  • On June 4, 2014, James “Tony” McKenzie unintentionally and fatally shot himself while driving his car in Meigs County, TN. He had a valid concealed handgun permit and his family said he always carried his gun with him.
  • On December 15, 2013, 24-year-old permit holder Ryan Frederick was showing off his new handgun in Colombia, TN when he unintentionally fired a shot that traveled through the floor and killed 19-year-old James Tyler Wisdom.
  • On February 12, 2012, concealed handgun permit holder Cornelius J. De Jong IV brought his handgun to a party in Redmond, Washington. When someone objected to a handgun at a party where people were intoxicated, De Jong removed the magazine and fired the gun at a wall to demonstrate it was unloaded. There was a live round in the chamber which hit and killed a 20-year-old woman in the next room. De Jong, 21, was previously convicted of a DUI, underage public intoxication, and two incidents of a minor in possession of alcohol.
  • On February 12, 2012, concealed permit holder Moises Zambrana showed his Ruger 9mm to Dustin Bueller at a church in St. Petersburg, Florida. Zambrana removed the magazine but did not realize there was a round in the chamber. It fired, fatally shooting Bueller’s girlfriend.

Between January 2015 and March 2018, at least 47 people in the U.S. shot friends, family, or emergency responders after mistaking the victims for home intruders. For example, the investigation by BuzzFeed News and the Trace identified Alexis Bukrym who shot her roommate in the chest with a Ruger LCP .380 when she mistook him for a burglar. Police returned her gun a month after the shooting and she now keeps the gun a few steps away from her bed instead of under her pillow. Bukrym called her roommate’s death a risk she must take to protect herself. “There’s always a threat of somebody wanting to hurt you,” she said. “I would take that chance every day.”


John Lott, Gun Control Myths, 2020
John Lott, “Don’t Let Anti-Gun Activists Weaponize the Capitol Hill Riot,” Newsweek, January 20, 2021
Albert Samaha and Sean Campbell, “These Good Guys With Guns Accidentally Shot Their Friends And Family Members,” BuzzFeed News, Mar. 28, 2018

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