BOLD-FACED LIE: Gun Control Groups Twist Heritage Foundation Data Out of Recognition in Court Documents

COMMENTARY Firearms

BOLD-FACED LIE: Gun Control Groups Twist Heritage Foundation Data Out of Recognition in Court Documents

Jan 5, 2023 7 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Amy Swearer

Legal Fellow, Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies

Amy is a Legal Fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.
At best, the legal brief’s characterization of my monthly articles on defensive gun use is lazy to the point of recklessness. rushay booysen / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

The groups claim the two articles “support” the premise that the District’s ban doesn’t negatively affect law-abiding gun owners.

At least two cases in the articles cited by the gun control groups cannot be so easily dismissed as involving “nowhere close” to the firing of 10 defensive rounds.

The Heritage Foundation strongly condemns this attempt by prominent gun control groups to misconstrue its position on the need for standard capacity magazines.

A conglomerate of gun control groups has filed a brief in federal court supporting the District of Columbia in a lawsuit challenging the city’s prohibition on civilian possession of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds.

This was not at all surprising.

What was quite perplexing, however, was the gun control groups’ citation of two of my recent monthly articles for The Daily Signal on defensive gun use. The groups claim the two articles “support” the premise that the District’s ban doesn’t negatively affect law-abiding gun owners, because none of the cases I cited “involved the use of anywhere close to 10 rounds of ammunition.”

Worse, the gun control groups spun this as The Heritage Foundation, among others, having “acknowledged that the ability to fire more than 10 rounds of ammunition without reloading is not necessary for defensive purposes.” (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news organization.)

These are incredible claims in the most literal sense: They lack any credibility.

At best, the legal brief’s characterization of my monthly articles on defensive gun use is lazy to the point of recklessness and wrongly attributes to my employer, The Heritage Foundation, a policy position that it doesn’t hold. At worst, this constitutes an intentional effort to manipulate a federal court with a blatantly misleading representation of Heritage’s work on defensive gun use.  

First, my monthly articles for The Daily Signal provide nothing close to a comprehensive accounting of every defensive gun use that occurs in a given month—a point that is made quite clear in the articles themselves. Each one reminds readers that almost every study on the issue has found that Americans use their firearms between 500,000 and 2.5 million times a year.

The series is intended to provide a snapshot of the thousands of cases in Heritage’s Defensive Gun Use Database, and highlights, at most, only a fraction of the media-verified cases compiled in any given month.

Yes, we choose cases to highlight based to some extent on an unquantifiable “wow” factor, which sometimes includes the number of rounds fired. But we also choose cases in large part based on aesthetic factors—we like to spotlight cases that are spaced somewhat evenly throughout a given month and are also geographically diverse.

In no way, then, is it reasonable to conclude that if one of my monthly articles for The Daily Signal doesn’t highlight a case in which more than 10 rounds were fired by a defensive gun user, then no such case occurred that month.

Ironically, the September article that the gun control groups cite (covering cases from the previous month) is the perfect example to illustrate this point.

Left out of that article—but still included in Heritage’s database and highlighted on the @DailyDGU Twitter account—was an Aug. 19 example of defensive gun use in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, by a concealed carry permit holder who fired 18 rounds while defending himself against an armed robber.

A cursory review of Heritage’s database reveals this is far from the only confrontation that didn’t make it into the monthly “highlight reel,” despite involving more than 10 rounds fired in self-defense.

In the March article, for example, we declined to highlight a Feb. 22 case in Richmond, Kentucky, in which a man fired at least 19 rounds using two firearms during a shootout with an intruder who had just killed the man’s daughter.

That same month, a gun owner in Washington state told reporters that he fired an entire magazine of ammunition at a gunman, providing covering fire for two wounded sheriff’s deputies during a shootout and likely saving their lives.

Second, the authors of the legal brief apparently assume that if a media report doesn’t explicitly state that a defensive gun user fired more than 10 rounds, it simply couldn’t have happened. Although it’s sometimes evident from the broader context that fewer than 10 rounds were fired, at other times—as the Washington case above underscores—such an assumption is entirely unwarranted.

In fact, at least two cases in the articles cited by the gun control groups cannot be so easily dismissed as involving “nowhere close” to the firing of 10 defensive rounds.

In an Aug. 16 case out of Lexington, South Carolina, both the assailant and the defensive gun user suffered multiple gunshot wounds during an exchange of gunfire inside the latter’s home. As far as we can tell, law enforcement hasn’t detailed the exact number of rounds fired during the shootout.

The broader context, however, is one in which it is more than plausible for the defensive gun user to have fired more than 10 rounds. He was defending his home and family against a well-armed man wearing a ballistic vest during a shootout in which both men would have had ample opportunity for defensive cover.

Similarly, a June 16 incident in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, was featured in the July article cited by the gun control groups. That article includes language and circumstances that make it entirely plausible that the defensive gun user fired more than 10 rounds. The elderly homeowner got into a shootout with three armed intruders who fired at him first, and the most detailed news reports say merely that the homeowner “returned shots.”

Unless the authors of the two gun control groups’ legal brief have information to which neither we nor the original journalists are privy, there’s no reasonable basis to conclude that the homeowner could not and did not fire more than 10 rounds in self-defense.

This type of scenario—and indeed, scenarios in which it is almost certain that more than 10 rounds were fired—are found routinely in the monthly articles published by The Daily Signal, and it seems evident that the gun control groups must have gone out of their way to ignore any recent articles that didn’t fit the misleading narrative they wished to convey.

For example, it’s reasonable to assume that the Florida gun owner featured in June, who used three firearms to defend himself during a May shootout, did so because he expended all of the ammunition in at least one firearm. The odds, therefore, are quite high that the defensive gun user cumulatively fired more than 10 rounds from those three firearms.

Meanwhile, a July case out of Philadelphia featured in the August article involved at least 40 rounds fired between the victim and three assailants, only one of whom clearly was portrayed as armed, according to news reports. It’s statistically reasonable, if not highly probable, for the victim to have fired more than 10 of those rounds under the circumstances.

As with cases explicitly involving more than 10 rounds fired in self-defense, plenty of these “statistically probable” cases were captured in Heritage’s database but not highlighted in my monthly articles for The Daily Signal.

Consider a February case out of Washington state, where the defensive gun user “drop[ped] an entire magazine” of ammunition against a criminal while saving the lives of two deputy sheriffs during a shootout. Given the prevalence in that state of standard capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds, there’s a high likelihood that “expending an entire magazine” resulted in more than 10 rounds being fired.

And sometimes the monthly articles include summaries of defensive gun uses that unintentionally omitted the fact that more than 10 rounds were fired. This happened, for example, in the first article in 2019, which simply noted that a homeowner killed three of four intruders on Jan. 20, but, for purposes of brevity, left out the detail that he fired dozens of rounds during that gunbattle.

It is quite likely that my articles published by The Daily Signal have omitted similar information in other cases. After all, the primary purpose of these articles never has been to compile and showcase every single time a defensive gun user fires more than 10 rounds.

Along those same lines, neither Heritage’s database nor the monthly articles provide insight into the number of times defensive gun uses are unsuccessful precisely because a gun owner is killed by an assailant while he or she is reloading. We know, however, that such cases have occurred this year.

Far from “acknowledging that the ability to fire more than 10 rounds of ammunition without reloading is not necessary for defensive purposes,” Heritage’s research on defensive gun use undermines any such assertion.

The Heritage Foundation strongly condemns this attempt by prominent gun control groups to misconstrue Heritage’s position on the need for standard capacity magazines, especially when the groups perpetrating this falsehood are doing so to mislead a federal judge.

So let’s be clear about what the Defensive Gun Use Database shows, and what Heritage’s position is: Civilians—just like the law enforcement officers who are exempt from these restrictions—sometimes need to defend themselves with more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

And in those cases where more than 10 rounds are needed, the extra ammunition may mean the difference between life or death.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal