It is an old (if not a good) saw among advocates of armed self-defense that they “would rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6.” That is, they would rather use lethal force in self-defense and take their chances with a jury of their peers than to be dead. I’ve heard it in every self-defense gun training class I’ve ever attended – usually spoken by a student rather than an instructor.
Of course, since most concealed weapon license holders are law-abiding citizens who live in the safer parts of their communities and are living in the safest epoch in human history, they will almost never need to make this choice. (A point on which I agree with “Mike the Gun Guy,” who repeatedly makes this point.)
Violent criminals, by contrast, face this choice routinely, especially those involved with drugs and gangs. This was made abundantly clear to me in two presentations I heard last week in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology.
As I noted previously, there are several studies of gun violence that are currently being funded by the National Institute of Justice.
One of them focuses on Los Angeles and involves researchers from the University of California at Irvine’s highly ranked Department of Crime, Law, and Society. Part of the LA study is interviews with a random sample of detainees at LA County jails who are charged with gun-related crimes. The study is seeking to understand how they get their guns and why they carry them.
The project is in its early stages so the findings presented were pretty slim. But one thing that caught the researchers’ attention and mine was that of the 135 detainees interviewed 73% had been shot at or shot. When asking one detainee about his decision to carry a gun illegally he responded, “I’d rather be in jail to talk to [my mother] than [her] coming to put flowers on my plaque.” In brief, at the end of the day, life was more important than freedom. Freedom doesn’t mean anything if you are dead.
Just as I was thinking to myself that this sounded an awful lot like people in the gun culture saying they would rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6, Harold Pollack of the University of Chicago Crime Lab got up to talk about interviews his team is conducting with Cook County detainees. Like the LA study, they found 92% had been shot at and 43% had been shot. And like the LA study, the detainees said a big reason they carried guns was for self-defense, even though it is illegal. As one inmate put it, according to Pollack, almost sending me out of my seat: he would “rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6.”
Life over freedom is a terrible choice to have to make. But in the criminal underworld, it seems from these two studies, it’s one that is made with some regularity.