Moving. Still. Parking lots and roads, all involve cars, still and moving, and both places are potential hotter spots for U.S. crime, not necessarily super “hot” spots as you might assume, but “hotter” spots. Parking lots and roads are places where all kinds of people of all types, pass by each other and interact in some fashion, if only visually.
In Part 1 here… I have tried to collect a lot of info on parking lot crime and related shootings for years now. For those of you reading this outside the United States, I hope you can glean some security ideas that may or may not relate to your country, but may help in developing equations for safety. For one universal problem, we all fall prey to the “frequency illusion” which leads us to believe that some things we focus on, or the media focuses on, happens more than others because…because we are looking-focused for that one thing, such as in crime in general and for this topic – crime, shootings, in, out and around vehicles on parking lots.
Usually, in reality, most all research is shallow and fallible. Experts take small samples and extrapolate them into bigger results. Keep this elusiveness in mind when reading what I have collected here. And I warn, this essay is NOT about auto burglaries, or auto thefts, or advising lot owners how to build safer parking lots. It’s about people in, out and around vehicles and shootings. There are attached areas like hallways, stairs and elevators, and if a person has left the immediate area of their autos on lots to these attached locations, they have left the scope of this essay.
Big Pictures. Big Pictures. You can open up any news page or search on the topic “parking lot shootings” and a lengthy list of individual crimes appear. Every shooting is a drama and trauma (and probably a lawsuit). Is this as rampant as this seems? The list is long and if you don’t recognize and dismiss the Frequency Illusion you’ll probably decide to cart a machine gun to MacDonald’s, as all parking lots (and life) are a war zone.
First, as a skeptic, I like to examine the big picture in any topic, so often neglected either by bias or ignorance, starting with the necessary topics to help define the subject:
- total teen and adult driver population, (this gives us a comparison, crime versus populations, and numbers of drivers)
- total retail transactions, (this tells us estimates of how many people might drive to and park at a retail location.)
- total car ownership, (suggests parking lot potential use.)
- local gun legal and illegal gun ownership laws.
- types of parking lots, residential, restaurants, retail, etc….
- reported parking lot crime (actually, parking lot crimes, and out and around cars and shootings.
- there are other local, nuanced factors of course…
- According to laws in every state in the U.S., an area of the law known as “premise liability,” businesses have a duty to protect its customers from violent crime while they’re on store property, crime that can reasonably predict.
Next, the actual numbers so we can see the big picture. In 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 331.4 million people living in the United States and more than three-quarters (77.9%) or 258.3 million were adults, 18 years or older. Out of this figure, in 2023 there are a projected 243.4 million licensed drivers in the U.S., which includes 89% of US adults. Hedges and Company, a popular marketing firm reports that in 2023 there are a projected 243.4 million licensed drivers in the US. In many states, teens under 18 are also driving. The CDC says there are over 8.3 million teen drivers.” Finally, the Federal Highway Administration estimates there are 275,913,237 vehicles in the U.S.. Not all folks drive of course, but can we say so many if not most do.
That’s a lot of big picture numbers so let me list them out:
- 331.4 million people living in the United States in 2020. (More in 2023.)
- 243.4 million adult licensed drivers in the US. (in 2022)
- 8.3 million teen drivers. (in 2022.)
- That’s about 252 million total drivers. (in 2022.)
- There are estimated 275,913,237 vehicles in the US.
- Pew Research reports there are approximately 77.5 million adult gun owners in the U.S.. There are some 436 million guns.
- Summary – Lots of drivers, guns, cars and lots of parking needed.
And They All Park, Somewhere. Parking lots and parking garages – do we really need to define what they are? I think not. I think we all know the full range of parking options, those covered and uncovered. How many lots? There is no way to really collect business parking lot and garage numbers in the US with accuracy, but we can surmise there are a lot of them. A whole lot. All these cars, drivers and passengers park and walk to and from vehicles every day. I hesitate to suggest precise, parking lot attendance numbers, other than it must be enormous.
Walmart Parking Lots. One Crime Case Study. The big store system everyone brags they hate…yet go to and and park. Let’s look at one of the most popular retail locations in the U.S. as a big sampling, case study, and use it as a means, an equation and method to consider how we might evaluate all parking lot crime in general. Handily for us, Walmart-haters have produced articles on “Walmart crime.” The numbers sound scary. Sounds like a lot, but the authors never compare crimes to total sales transactions or customers counts – again – the typical ignorance of the big picture, which will ruin their biased message about Walmart crime.
in 2022, Walmart reports on average in their 3,573 Supercenters in the U.S., each serves about 10,000 customers every single day. These numbers come from sales transactions. That rounds out. to 10,000 sales times 3,573 stores = to be about some 3,650,000 sales a day – over 3 and half million customers a day.
Dare we then cipher out 3,650,000 daily customers times 365 days? 1,332,250,000? So many of them equal a vehicle trip and parking as I think we can safely judge that almost all Walmart transactions probably represents a car and parking. That’s a lot of parking on Walmart parking lots. A lot of people and no matter how we crunch those numbers, we can surely assume a whole lot of people parked on Walmart parking lots. Then, were there 5 million crimes? 2 million? 1 million? Millions of shoot-outs? Thousands maybe? Hundred? Murders. Kidnappings, rapes and robberies? Lions and tigers and bears? Not hardly. Read on…
Now…crime at, and-or on, Walmart property? (2016 must have been a bad PR year for Walmart as the haters jumped on for a lot reasons…)
- Time Magazine reported in “2016, police in many communities get more calls to Walmart shopping centers than anywhere else. For some stores, police are called multiple times a day. The problem appears to be far larger for Walmart (open 24 hours) for competing retailers like Target. And the crime ranges from mostly standard shoplifting and petty theft to the occasional rape, stabbing, shooting, murder, or meth lab hidden in a 6-foot drainage pipe under the store parking lot.”
- This Week magazine reported that “Impoverished communities are more likely to be afflicted by crime in general, and these days a Walmart store is often the biggest retail hub.”
- In 2016, Tulsa Oklahoma PD described the violent crimes over several year period – “Most of the calls to the northeast Supercenter were for shoplifting, but there’s no shortage of more serious crimes, including five armed robberies so far this year, a murder suspect who killed himself with a gunshot to the head in the parking lot last year, and, in 2014, a group of men who got into a parking lot shootout that killed one and seriously injured two others.”
- Bloomberg reports that in 2016 there were “More than 200 violent crimes (coast to coast), at Walmarts, including attempted kidnappings and multiple stabbings, shootings, and murders, have occurred at the nation’s stores.
Note the highlighted word, “occasional” above. Those occasional violent ones are the ones that could, might involve a potential gun defense. And the… “More than” two hundred violent crimes? When you dissect the “more than” line…is that one more – 201? Five more – 205? If it reached fifty more, 250 would they still say “more than 200″? This bias verbiage to shock you, but whether it’s 200 or 300 crimes, that’s nothing much within 3,650,000 customers in 3,573 locations a day from coast to coast. Is this a real parking lot crime wave?
You can start to see how parking lot crime is reported and presented, minus the big picture numbers. And, in the Tulsa story, armed robberies (parking lot or inside registers? As the interior registers would not officially be parking lot crimes, but fleeing suspects on a parking lot are indeed a problem – they almost always have getaway vehicles desperate to escape.)
- 3,573 stores X 10,000 sales-customer a day per store = 3,650,000 daily sales-customers.
- 365 days X 3,650,000 daily sales-customers = 1,332,250,000.
- 1,332,250,000 = how many cars on the lot?
- Bloomberg says 200 violent crimes in 2016, parking lot or otherwise?
What of Restaurants, Businesses, Residentials and “other” Then? Finances On Line, report that 163 million people eat out once a week. Times that by 52 weeks. That is… 32,760,00,000, which includes a lot of varied parking, couldn’t we assume? We can’t say exactly for sure how many, but there are a lot of people parking on parking lots to eat out. How about all the other business parking lots? And we cannot forget the private parking lots of businesses, houses, and apartments.
Statista.com reports that In 2021, that is within this total of millions and millions of parking events, around 16,617 robberies took place in parking garages or parking lots in the United States. No related report if they involve or justify parking lot shoot-outs, being robberies an armed victim, might be motivated to produce a gun.
Finally, The U.S. Department of Justice reports, “it appears that the risk of being attacked in a parking facility, is 4 in 1 million, and is really quite low. Interestingly, about 20 percent of violent crime in parking facilities is committed by persons known to the victim.”
This violent “20% known” involves gang wars, revenge, co-workers, affairs, domestic violence and all the other related “known” crimes we see in the news. By the way, where do you fit in this 20%? Is such a thing brewing in your life? Increasing your odds?
(Note: I’ve come across various sources with confusing odd, numbers that didn’t add up and deleted them from my number lists. Some were inflammatory as they sold courses and parking lot safety gear.)
So, On the Subject of Shooting? My purpose with boring you with these massive numbers is simply to remind you that there are lots of cars, drivers, guns and parking, and not a lot of lot crimes in comparison. Miniscule in comparison to many millions of daily parking events. With the Walmart parking lot study and the U.S. Department of Justice’s “4 in one million” chance, parking lots in general are actually, pretty darn safe and there is a lot of daily, safe parking, and safe to-and-fro walking, every day in the U.S.. Can we extrapolate the DOJ and Walmart examination to all parking lots? Somewhat…a bit, for example, there is anecdotal information that in some places like Memphis, TN., or in like some Chicago neighborhoods, parking lots that are extra dangerous. It seems most cities have problem spots. So local geography, local crime and time can certainly be situational (see below advice). But in the big picture and with the below preparation list, odds are greatly in your favor you will not be in a parking lot shooting.
When “Four in a Million” Becomes “One in One.”? Crime numbers change every year and in every location, that includes the numbers I have produced above. If a bunch of lot crime or not, people will still have guns on them and-or in their vehicles. Also, as I asked a few lines above, “Where do you fit in that “known to 20%” category?” What’s brewing in your life that will change the odds? Well, as I like to remind folks, if it is YOU attacked! The “one-in-four-mill” odds no longer count! Then it’s a “One in One” and the word “chance” is gone. It’s happening to you. Are you armed? Can you get away? Can you scare away? Duck, cover, move? Shoot? Shoot to kill?
The “fortune favors the prepared” classic quote was not said by Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Patton, nor Dick Tracy. It comes to us from a French chemist, Louis Pasteur, who said fully, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” In summary, one should go about their parking travels with healthy preparation and real, local intelligence information, not an unhealthy, panting, hypervigilant paranoia. I always resort to the “Ws and H” questions for preparation. Here are some sample questions…
- WHO are you and who do you think will attack you on a parking lot you? How might these elements prevent or become a shooting?
- WHAT is going on, on the parking lot, and district and city you are visiting? Crime rates? Problems? What is “brewing bad” in your life? What will he do to approach-attack you? What will you do? What are you wearing? What is your job? What are the local self-defense laws? What gun? What and how might these elements escalate into a shooting?
- WHERE is this lot, and where on the lot will you park? By the front doors? Under lights? Where are the attack points? Where do you fit in that ‘”known to” 20%” category that you might be “hunted?” Where exactly is your gun? Where might errant rounds go? Where and how might this turn into a shooting?
- WHEN are you parking, holidays? Daytime? Nighttime? When and how might this turn into a shooting?
- HOW exactly would you be approached-attacked on the lot? How will he act? How will you react? How will this turn into a shooting?
- WHY are you going there? Is it worth it, given the questions above? Why and how could this turn into a shooting?
Each “W and H” question is a book chapter, too much to burden this small, generic essay here. I lecture on these in my “Shooting In, Out and Around Cars” seminar. You must continue to answer these big and small, vital, “Ws and H” questions for yourself, your life and locale. Use these and make up your own list of answers. I have been using the “Ws and H” questions for over 27 years to investigate and teach potential problems in crime, war (and life in general). They’ve never let me down as the best way to plan, but you need good intel.
Live Fire and Vehicles. You can train live fire methods in, out and around cars, shooting paper targets. In the end, given some “in-to and out-of” vehicle shooting nuances concerning things like vehicle construction, ricochets, and glass issues, the physicality of shootings with all opponents outside of cars will be much like shooting anywhere else, with the exception that you will be somewhat surrounded mostly by cars.
Live fire – if so, are you training for the realities of your life? I see a fair amount of vehicle-related, live-fire courses were citizen attendees are outfitted as if for a two-week war in Cambodia with auto and semi-auto rifles, pistols, training knives, knee and elbow pads, and gear full of ammo. Such military, SWAT, police, etc. courses are absolutely ten times the fun. I have run some sims ammo ones and everybody just reveals in the experience. But unless you are on the far side of some special operations team or the Secret Service, this will not relate to your trip to the Dairy Queen and the small, hammerless .32 revolver you carry in your pocket.
All the live-fire, vehicle-related courses are a one-way street of early preparation. Vital, core work to experience. And it is also vital to train with interactive, simulated ammo, shooting at enemies who are shooting back at you. It is horrible and shocking for some to see how easily you can be shot, foot, ankle, knee, leg, elbow, arm, head and torso, even after working the best live-fire, range shooting methods in, out and around cars.
United States parking lots seem to be quite safe, when one considers the big picture. But when you or yours are victimized it is hard to respect and swallow the big picture evidence. I understand this, but there is a bigger picture that blankets the realities, training doctrine, laws and policy making. Within all that, within an amazing safety record, bad things can happen. I hope you will never be involved in vehicle-related gunfight.
Road Rage and Shootings, Part 2 of this investigation, coming soon.
- I urge you to study this pretty comprehensive DOJ report “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design in Parking Facilities”: https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles/cptedpkg.pdf
- Parking Lot Gun Laws in 2-parts: https://firearmslaw.duke.edu/2020/06/parking-lot-laws-a-history/ https://firearmslaw.duke.edu/2020/06/parking-lot-laws-their-content-and-applicability/
Hock’s email is Hock@survivalcentrix.com
Here is a training film on this subject with some tips and exercises on car-related training. Click here