9/06/03
Appalachian Law School shooting, the role of Ted Besen

I have gotten an e-mail asking about the role that Ted Besen played in stopping the Appalachian Law School attack during January 2002. While I had seen and referenced a story by Rick Montgomery, a reporter for the Kansas City Star, I hadnít read down to the last couple hundred words of the 1,400 word piece that he published in March 2002. Montgomeryís piece contains a quote from Besen claiming that the attacker put his gun down before Mikael Gross and Tracy Bridges arrived at the scene. (Montgomery has seen copies of everything that I wrote on the incident and he has never mentioned these facts to me.) In checking this, I had Jill Mitchell, one of my RAs, go back and pull up all the news articles that mention Besen in any way.

After receiving the e-mail, I tried calling both Ted Besen and Tracy Bridges about this earlier in the week, but only Tracy Bridges returned my call. I have mentioned the heroic actions of Besen in all my writings on the attack, but not in the way discussed in the KC Star. Bridges' conversation was helpful, and he has always said that Besen was the first of the students who helped stop the attack to come in contact with the killer after he had put down his gun. However, Bridges said that he had never heard the version of events offered in the KC Star until a couple of months after the attack. Consistent with that, while there are 24 news stories that mention Ted Besen prior to the KC Star piece, not one of the stories provides information that is the same as what Besen told the KC Star. None of the local Virginia papers that wrote extensively on the incident mention this claim by Besen, even the ones that discuss Gross and Bridges using their guns, though apparently those papers also interviewed Besen.

One explanation that appears consistent with both Bridgesí comments and Besenís later statement in the KC Star is that Besen was closer to the attacker than either Bridges or Gross and wouldnít have clearly seen what Gross and Bridges were doing. Even the early reports that didn't mention Bridges and Gross using their guns, consistently noted how quickly Bridges and Gross were involved in helping subdue the attacker. It appears that there couldn't have been much distance between Gross, Bridges, and Besen, and there is little debate that Gross and Bridges had their guns with them. The statements by Gross and Bridges about them both using their guns to get the attacker to put down his gun are also very consistent with each other.

Tracy Bridges did say that he had been good friends with Besen both prior to the attack and immediately afterwards, but that he thought that because of the attention that he and Gross had received, his relationship with Besen suffered. More weight should have been given in news stories to Besenís obviously heroic actions to approach the attacker without being armed himself, but I donít think that this takes away from the statements of both Gross and Bridges. I will continue to try to contact Besen. One nice thing that Tracy Bridges said to me when I talked to him was that "You [Lott] were one of the few people who accurately portrayed what happened."

Other discussions on the Appalachian Law School can be found in postings on 9/11/03 and 7/4/03.

Of course, my book, The Bias Against Guns, also references other pieces of information about this case and I had talked to Tracy Bridges prior to writing the book to try and ensure accuracy.

For other post on this topic seeAppalachian law school attack.

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Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper