Who Are the Guardians?

[Ed: A long, superb article by three longstanding experts originally posted on Ammoland October 23, 2023.]

What is a ‘guardian?’ A simple definition of “guardian” is someone whose presence prevents crime. Criminologists, who created that evocative title, have ignored armed civilians as possible guardians. But there is no reason that civilian firearm owners could not be recognized as guardians. You know who they are. They are the peaceful folks who own firearms. They are the dependable folks who carry concealed or open in public. And they are the good folks who have used their firearms in defense of themselves and others.

So why haven’t criminologists considered U.S. gun owners to be guardians? Criminologists imagine guardians to be unarmed protectors, so American firearm owners do not fit their definition. This is illogical if one considers the desired outcome to be a more stable society.

We know that millions of armed civilians exist right here in the U.S. They, and their guns, already serve to protect their fellow Americans. Why are they not included among the ranks of guardians? Why are they invisible to the criminologists? And why are their good deeds going unseen? Perhaps unsurprisingly, criminologists don’t want to admit that responsible firearm owners are beneficial to society.

We will show how criminologists have been wearing ideological blinders that kept them from recognizing the benefits of armed civilians. We will cite research that shows Americans who own firearms do indeed protect their neighbors from criminal violence, and therefore, they should be seen as guardians. Using the logic developed by the criminologists, who believe that only unarmed guardians are beneficial to society, we will show that American firearm owners qualify as “guardians” just as much as, if not more than, unarmed civilians.

Even if criminologists have difficulties in recognizing the truth, we will show how beneficial and necessary these homegrown armed guardians are to our society. We can’t allow falsehoods spread by ignorant criminologists to mislead the public. Such falsehoods are repeated ad nauseam in the mass media and give support to socialists and would-be tyrants.

Guardianship is a concept that is little known outside of academic criminology that describes a newly recognized class of crime prevention agents. Historically, criminology focused on the criminal, but the hope that criminality could be reduced by punishing the criminal was soon frustrated by reality. The notion that crime would be reduced by ensuring the severity, certainty, and speed of punishment has not worked as well as expected. Severe as the punishment might be on paper, there was no certainty that the criminal would ever be punished. And our criminal justice system is never going to become meaningfully speedy.

How then could the crime problem be reduced? Criminologists groped for answers. One approach was to examine the place and time where the crime was committed, particularly the other people who were present or not present. Gradually, the concept of “guardians” emerged.

In 1979, Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson removed attention from the criminal and re-focused on the circumstances of the crime. Routine activities of life would sometimes bring offenders and victims together in a suitable location at the same time. If a guardian was present, crime was less likely to occur. Felson even accepted the notion that “A case can be made that the offender is not the most important factor for explaining crime…The ‘capable guardian’ against crime serves by simple presence to prevent crime, and by absence to make crime more likely.

More recently, criminologists John Eck and Tamara Madensen-Herold, writing in 2019, concentrated on “place managers” as guardians. Routine Activity Theory terminology was developed to create roles for the entire community – “guardians” protect victims, and “handlers,” who might be parents, teachers, coaches, clergy, or friends, look out for criminals. The “place managers,” owners or people, to whom owners delegate responsibility, look out for places, not people. Eck and Madensen-Herold described some of the functions of guardians such as calling the police, or confronting or yelling at the offender. And because more guardians mean less crime, criminologists were interested in how to encourage people to adopt that role. But by 2019, Eck and Madensen-Herold still would not include “gun” when they mention “guardian.”

We prefer to look specifically at “guardians” rather than “place managers” or “handlers” because here in the U.S., the negative treatment of firearm owners covers up their beneficial effect on society as guardians, and that’s wrong. How are so many guardians hidden, and who are they? We believe the firearm-owners’ role in building a better society is anathema to global socialists and would be tyrants, who prefer to glorify a disarmed population. This truth needs to be exposed.

Cohen and Felson stress that, “guardianship by ordinary citizens of one another and of property as they go about routine activities may be one of the most neglected elements in sociological research on crime, especially since it links seemingly unrelated social rules and relationships to the occurrence or absence of illegal acts.” Cohen and Felson are correct, as far as they go. However, here in the U.S., there should be room in the group of guardians for the many firearm owners who deserve recognition for their virtuous deeds.

Danielle Reynald

Three decades after Cohen and Felson introduced the concept, criminologist-researcher Danielle Reynald published her study of guardians, and confirmed that studies “have consistently shown that capable guardianship is indeed a critical determinant of victimization.” Translation: Criminologists know they need help from the public. But here again, there is no discussion of firearms.

This lack of attention to firearms (or other weapons), might be explained because Danielle Reynald was educated in the UK and Australia, and completed her research in the Netherlands, all countries where firearms and self-defense are discouraged. She pays great attention to detail and is certain to have an enduring career in criminology. However, her expertise on this particular topic is limited by her lack of knowledge about American civilian gun culture, so her findings should not be expanded to criminology in the U.S.

The Netherlands is a small, relatively peaceful, country with restrictive firearms laws and minimal civilian firearm ownership. In the Netherlands, gun permits must be renewed each year and the prospective owner must show a reason for the gun purchase. So, it was reasonable for Reynald to just observe guardians who do not possess firearms. In her thesis, she describes an unusual incident that illustrates her idea of an “ideal” guardian.

In Reynald’s example, the ideal guardian showed up as an elderly Dutch woman who noticed when six toughs armed with sledge hammers began committing a robbery. The woman then angrily charged into them swinging her purse as a weapon, and preventing the completion of the crime. It is important to acknowledge here that the elderly woman did not have any responsibility for the jewelry store and Reynald did not refer to the purse as a weapon. Let us note that in the U.S. version, it’s likely the elderly woman would have been brandishing her Lady Smith instead of swinging her purse.

The takeaway here is that the woman acting as a guardian was not armed or connected to the store. She was, as Reynald was to discover, an unusual guardian. If criminologists expected more like her, they would be disappointed. They may wish that guardians would act without the aid of weapons and only in the interest of society, but they can’t make it so. That’s because it’s normal for people to be concerned about their personal safety and the safety of their family. As Reynald noted elsewhere, “the average capable guardian is willing to intervene once his/her personal safety is unlikely to be compromised.

In her complex discussion of guardians, Reynald makes several key observations about Dutch guardianship that show the biased and illogical thinking of limiting guardianship to non-weapon wielders who prefer to protect unknown strangers and who do not act for their own benefit.

Reynald writes that the study of the crime theory has no room “for self-defense measures such as carrying weapons for self-protection since this is likely to be representative of very different processes.” Or, loosely translated, criminologists reject the U.S. firearm owner as an appropriate guardian because, unless they disarm and quit thinking about their safety, personal self-defense is selfish and not community-oriented.

Reynald, in her book Guarding Against Crime: Measuring Guardianship within Routine Activity Theory (2011), constructs a “clear conceptual distinction between self-defense … and the protection of unrelated others.” There it is! In effect, guardianship is distinct from personal self-defense because criminologists want to believe that there is a world of difference between protecting your neighbors or strangers and protecting your own family. But if criminologists would observe routine activity theory in an unbiased manner, they would understand that firearms owners are regular people and are involved with their families and community. Gun owners and non-gun owners live and exist close to their families and they all can act as guardians.

Firearm owners have erroneously been branded as selfish and so became “conceptually distinct” and not worthy of notice. However, the definition of guardianship need not exclude weapon possession or acts of self-defense or family defense. And American firearm owners need not be seen as acting only in self-defense of themselves or their families, because that’s just not true. Statistics are very clear that American civilian gun owners frequently act to protect their community and strangers in their community. And criminologists should understand that every act of violence prevented, even protective acts, by parents or loved ones, adds to the total well-being of the community.

American gun owners are not limited to acting selfishly in self-defense. John Lott’s website recently published an account of the FBI under-reporting of the number of armed civilians who intervened in active shooting incidents and sometimes even protected strangers and police officers. Based on poor data collection, the FBI estimated that armed civilians stopped 4.6% of active shooting incidents. But CPRC data showed that the correct number to 35.7%, and even more (63.5%) if Gun Free Zones were excluded from the calculations. When the FBI was advised of the errors, they were not corrected. The CPRC website also recently published stories of armed civilians who aided police officers.

Where Has The Logic Gone?

And so the logic of criminologists begins to break down. The Dutch subjects reveal all the “faults” that U.S. firearm owners are supposed to possess, which Reynald rails against, like protecting loved ones before strangers, preferring the benefits of weapons (if not guns), and even taking into account the obvious possibility of getting hurt. Reynald is inconsistent. How can she consider her Dutch subjects to be guardians and, thus, potential crime prevention with the same faults she finds in American gun owners? Does the definition of guardianship by criminologists remain acceptable if there is a tiny bit of human self-concern or not?

Yet Reynald, again from her book, almost gets it, “These results…raise the issue of self-protection versus the protection of others within the spectrum of guardianship. Many residents explained that they were more willing to intervene if their property or family were under threat, as compared to neighbors or other benevolent users of their residential space…”

Reynald further notes that potential guardians, who are willing to risk their safety, “represent a minority.” She included some comments from her subjects and this is what they said, “I am not certain whether I would intervene or not. It depends on my own safety…As long as they cannot harm me…I take a walking stick with me wherever I go…,” and “If I have my dogs with me…”

Reynold admits that “guardianship is operationalized by the use of self-protective behaviors by individuals, including weapon possession (e.g. carrying a knife or gun) and possession of body alarms or mace.” We might loosely interpret this to mean that folks armed with guns, more secure in a safe outcome for themselves, would be more likely to act. But if they possess guns or other weapons, like canes or even dogs, would they be considered conceptually different, and can they no longer be considered as guardians? Dogs, canes, and swinging purses might not be as effective as firearms, but they are still a form of weapon.

With or without firearms, Americans and the Dutch people are more similar than Reynald would like to admit. Perhaps they respond differently to danger because of their differing capacity to safely overcome violent acts. So why is the possession of a firearm so different? Why do criminologists condemn firearm possession if they honor guardians? Perhaps because criminologists tend to be socialists, many work for the government, and governments do not like armed civilians. Governments tend to prefer unarmed civilians who cannot defend themselves.

The very concept of self-defense encourages the very rational act of obtaining the best tool possible – a firearm. But, armed civilians make governments nervous.

There is also a very practical question arising from this disparagement of folks with guns who love their families. If guardianship increases crime control, why recognize one group with a legitimate positive role while treating a similar group as illegitimate? How can criminologists, who study ways to maximize guardianship in a community, rationalize their willful blindness to armed civilians?

Finding The Guardians

It will be easier to find America’s guardians if we recall the 1990s. That decade brought high-quality estimates of the massive number of socially beneficial defensive acts of civilians with weapons, and it also brought information about the unexpectedly high number of crimes that never happened, thanks to those armed civilians.

During the 1990s, it became more obvious that firearms prohibitionists were willing to lie when the facts did not agree with their favored narrative and their politics. Irrefutable research from that period conflicted with the false narrative that greater limitations on firearms owners would increase public safety. In other words, prohibitionists attempted to rewrite the research findings to minimize the political effect of the unfavorable conclusions. The policies of the prohibitionists could not then, and cannot now, stand up to examination. It was important for prohibitionists to downplay or hide the large numerical benefits of civilian firearms so the public would remain fearfully ignorant.

In 1995, Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, announced their research findings of “about 2.2 to 2.5 million Defensive Gun Uses (DGUs) of all types by civilians… and also that as many as 400,000 people a year…claim that they ‘almost certainly’ saved a life.” Even if only 10% of those lives were saved, Kleck and Gertz speculate, “This result cannot be dismissed as trivial…” They point to the many other DGU estimates that agree with their estimate and note that there is an “enormous nine-to-one or more discrepancy between the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) based estimates and all other estimates.” The NCVS survey estimate of 80,000 to 82,000 DGUs per year was the lowest and is often used to refute all the other surveys as being too high.

Kleck and Gertz concluded that “any form of gun control that disarms large numbers of prospective victims…will carry significant social costs.” We know who these non-victims are when they admit to a DGU, but our gun-phobic media ignore their success stories and the benefits of their acts to American society.

In 1997, pro-gun control criminologists Philip Cook, Jens Ludwig, and David Hemenway, in The Gun Debate’s New Mythical Number: How Many Defensive Uses Per Year?disputed the accuracy of Kleck and Gertz. Cook et al. explained how easy it was to over-estimate DGUs and complained, “The implicit notion seems to be that if there are more legitimate uses than criminal uses of guns against people, then widespread gun ownership is a net plus for public safety.” Yes, that is the point.

Kleck and Gertz reaffirmed, “The claim that there are huge numbers of defensive uses of guns each year in the United States has been repeatedly confirmed, and remains one of the most consistently supported assertions in the guns-violence research area.”

The simplest way to disagree with criminologists who wishfully think that the number of DGUs is so high is to explain why the estimates are so low. That’s because people do not have any incentive to admit to doing something that might have been illegal, as brandishing in most states is illegal. If they have a choice, they will remain silent. That fact requires very little argument and has recently emerged as its own research question that asks how many firearm owners underreport ownership.

The 1990s also saw the publication of Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handgunsthe famous article by John Lott, Jr. and David Mustard that explained how they could find and enumerate the many crimes that never occurred by comparing different locations at different times with varied gun restrictions. Lott and Mustard were able to report dollar amounts saved by society because citizens were deterring crime merely because more of them were legally owning and carrying weapons.

Their discovery that many crimes did not occur that should have happened contains a large part of the answer to the social question about the benefits of civilian possession of guns. Reducing crime reduces the need to recover from loss and rebuild lives, and so all of those now non-violent moments cumulatively made our society significantly better. Unfortunately, cheerful pictures of Lott’s non-victims cannot be shown because we don’t know who they are.

John Lott was not treated well by firearms prohibitionists. For example, in 2021, Democrats terminated his contract at the Department of Justice when Biden replaced Trump as President. Anti-gun activists took credit for him losing his position, claiming he was a “discredited gun researcher.” In the preface to the third edition of Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime, Lott discussed his situation. He says;

“I have continued to be amazed by the great lengths people can go to attack others and to distort research. I had no idea of the political intensity of the gun issue when I entered into this hornet’s nest.”

Lott popularized this complex research in his book More Guns, Less Crime. His continuing research gave the firearm culture a great deal of detailed information about how and why guns in our society keep the peace. But Lott’s lessons, for example, his discussions on Gun-Free Zones and mass shootings, were, and are, disparaged and ignored by folks who prefer passive citizens without guns.

As there are well over 400 million firearms in the U.S., and if American gun culture is the problem, we think we’d all know it. However, we find it strange that criminologists remain ignorant about the millions of civilian firearm owners in the U.S. who act as guardians. When we put numbers onto the various actors, there appear to be way too many gun-owner guardians to be able to hide them – if you care about accuracy and truth.

For example, recent research by William English finds that there are 81.4 million Americans who own firearms, with about 1.67 million owners who defend themselves with a gun each year. Cumulatively, the total of these defenders who engaged in a DGU adds up to 25.3 million. English finds that 20.7 million gun owners carry in public as opposed to about 700,000 police. Such numbers are too large to wave away.

American criminologists should be embarrassed by their failure to recognize the value of civilian firearms to society by deliberate scholastic blindness to accuracy and truth. How many more million gun owners must there be before criminologists decide to set the record straight? Acting like the beneficent elite they would like to be, they say they seek out methods that increase the amount and intensity of guardianship acts while attempting to eliminate gun ownership. Surely, they cannot fail to understand that their war on gun owners dampens a very effective form of guardianship activity here in the U.S.

Sadly, firearms can and do cause some innocent deaths, even without intent. If we didn’t believe our firearms benefited society, then because of the high value we place on life, there is no moral principle to justify a civilian gun culture. Folks who remain ignorant about civilian ownership will fearfully vote for the pied piper who promises more gun control. However, years of research have shown that our civilian firearms have an important protective value to everyone in our community.

What would happen if America’s armed guardians were disarmed? The criminologists will not hear us ask, nor will they answer us. The simple answer is, that disarming civilian Americans would allow violent crime to escalate. So …

Don’t give up your guns. EVER!




— Gary Mauser, PhD is professor emeritus in the Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies and the Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia. He specializes in criminology and economics, has published extensively on firearms legislation, firearms and violence, and has provided expert testimony on criminal justice issues to the Canadian government.

All DRGO articles by Gary Mauser, PhD

Alan J. Chwick has been involved with firearms much of his life and is the Retired Managing Coach of the Freeport NY Junior Marksmanship Club. He has escaped New York State to South Carolina and is an SC FFL (Everything22andMore.com). AJChwick@iNCNF.org | TWITTER: @iNCNF

— Joanne Eisen, DDS is a retired dentist living in Virginia. She is a committed 2A partisan and has co-authored over 100 articles and academic papers on firearms policy, international law,  and the UN and small arms, in addition to work on the Ethiopian culture of genocide and the relationship between victims, aggressors and weapons possession. Much of her work can be found here, here and here