Defensive Use of a Gun by Tom Reynolds
In the early 1990’s, the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS) reported ‘only’ 68,000 annual Defensive Gun Uses in connection with assaults and robberies (about 80,000 to 82,000 if one adds in household burglaries.) That number was low according to a later study.
In the 1995 study: Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz*, they took issue with NCVS and listed the estimated number of annual “Defensive Gun Uses” from numerous studies. There were a lot more:
1,621,000 (median number)
Kleck and Gertz used these studies to prove that the NCVS report was drastically wrong.
Further, Kleck and Gertz gave reasons why the NCVS was so far off:
First, the NCVS had not asked about self-protection unless the respondent first indicated that they had been a victim of a crime, so it was certainly underreported and underestimated.
Also, the respondent might be hesitant to admit to the use of a gun for self-protection because:
The defensive act itself might constitute an unlawful assault by the respondent or legal authorities could regard it that way. (Remember the St. Louis couple who were arrested because they “brandished” weapons in front of a mob. Also, Kyle Rittenhouse was charged with murder for defending himself against a mob.)
Guns are highly regulated. A victim's possession of the weapon might itself be unlawful, either in fact or in the mind of the person who used one. (Lay persons with a limited knowledge of the extremely complicated laws of self-defense or firearms are unlikely to know for sure whether their defensive actions or their gun possession was lawful.
Kleck and Getz pointed out another interesting aspect, that the NCVS data indicated that even where the robber had a gun, victims who resist with guns are substantially less likely to be injured than those who resist in other ways and even slightly less likely to be hurt than those who do not resist at all. (Remember Governor Cuomo rejected arming teachers to prevent collateral damage, in spite of this data to the contrary.)
Sounds like a resounding endorsement of the 2nd Amendment.
Then in 2018, Kleck's new paper—"What Do CDC's Surveys Say About the Frequency of Defensive Gun Uses?" found that the CDC had later asked about Defensive Gun Uses in its ‘Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey’ (BRFSS) in 1996, 1997, and 1998. But never reported it. Using the CDC’s data, Kleck summarized the CDC findings:
In 1996, 1997, and 1998, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted large-scale national surveys asking about defensive gun use (DGU). They never released the findings, or even acknowledged they had studied the topic. I obtained the unpublished raw data and computed the prevalence of DGU. CDC’s findings indicated that an average of 2.46 million U.S. adults used a gun for self-defense in each of the years from 1996 through 1998 – almost exactly confirming the estimate for 1992 of Kleck and Gertz (1995).
Did the CDC read the Kleck-Gertz 1995 study, decided to challenge it, and then discovered their studies reflected the same conclusion? Oops.
Another resounding endorsement of the 2nd Amendment.
But then, a sharp-eyed reviewer pointed out a method error in Kleck’s latest work (not the 1995 original). Kleck agreed and reworked the 1996, 1997 and 1998 data and came up with a lower estimate, but still over1 million Defensive Gun Uses.
Gun control fans like to now refer to Keck as ‘discredited’ because of an error he admitted and corrected, while they never reference the corrected 1 million number.
At some later date, the CDC published some statistics on Defensive Gun Use in its ‘Fast Facts’ web site. It’s not clear what those statistics were since they are not there anymore. However, in December 2022, while often quoting ‘The Reload’, multiple sources reported that the CDC quietly removed a range of gun statistics from its website after gun control advocates complained that the statistics made gun control laws harder to pass.
Researchers with the time - and with a grant to pay for that time – can argue and nitpick about the validity of every study they do not agree with. Of course, many grants come with the unspoken assumption that the results better be what the grantor hopes, if the researcher wants more funding. But the sheer size of Kleck’s numbers should give everyone pause.
Take only the median number of Kleck’s original study,1,621,000. That’s 1.6 million crimes prevented by a gun and if only 1% had ended in serious injury or death to the victim, that is 16,210 prevented.
Reduce the estimate to the later study of 1 million and you still get 10,000 serious injuries or deaths prevented.
In an average year, in the United States there are about 14,000 non suicide gun deaths from all other sources, legal and illegal.
And the numbers of Defensive Gun Uses keep going up, according to later studies.
A recent survey conducted by William English, from the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, found “...that guns are used defensively by firearms owners in approximately 1.67 million incidents per year.” The number is the product of an exhaustive effort in early 2021, when roughly 54 thousand U.S. residents over the age of 18 were polled.
Clearly, possession of a gun by the average citizen is beneficial, not harmful, and the numbers clearly outweigh gun usage by criminals.
Just as clearly, when gun control is advocated by the Left, Defensive Gun Uses is missing from the conversation. But now you know the complete story, in context.
* Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun (northwestern.edu)