[DGU = Defensive Gun Use. Make the jump for the map key.] “Gun control proponents want legislation that will restrict access to firearms, cato.org asserts. “The rationale for such legislation is to reduce accidental shootings and the criminal use of guns against people. But if harm reduction is the goal, policymakers should pause to consider how many crimes–murders, rapes, assaults, robberies–are thwarted by ordinary persons who were fortunate enough to have access to a gun. Gun control proponents cannot deny that people use guns successfully against criminals, but they tend to play down how often such events take place. The purpose of this map is to draw more attention to this aspect of the firearms policy debate. Two additional points are worth noting . . .

First, the map is not comprehensive. Criminals will often flee the scene when they discover that their intended target has a gun. With no shots fired, no injuries, and no suspect in custody, news organizations may report nothing at all. Thus, it is important to remember that news reports can only provide us with an imperfect picture of defensive gun use in America. Second, when a citizen is able to shoot an attacker or hold a rapist or robber until the police arrive, it is very likely that more than one crime has been prevented because if the culprit had not been stopped, he could have targeted other citizens as well. The bottom line is that gun owners stop a lot of criminal mayhem every year.

Cato’s admission regarding the map’s lack of comprehensiveness puts the org in the running for The English Understatement of the Year award.

The vast majority of DGUs go completely unreported. Yesterday’s post on a DGU in Chicago is typical; the gun owner didn’t contact police after scaring off his potential attackers—for fear of legal retribution. There may be hundreds of thousands of similar incidents every year.

As we reported in June 2010, experts estimate that Chicago is home to over 100k+ illegal firearms. An unknown percentage are these gun owners are otherwise law-abiding citizens; they possess the weapon for self-defense. Extrapolate that into other gun restrictive jurisdictions (LA, New York City, New Jersey, Hawaii, etc.) and you have an enormous population of gun owners flying under the statistical radar.

What’s more, we can safely assume that the people who own these unregistered weapons live in high crime areas. Which means they have a greater chance of using them for self-defense than the population who own guns legally. The key takeaway: a person who owns a gun illegally is NOT going to report a successful DGU to the po-po.

More generally, there is no reliable data on the number of successful DGUs in the United States. Estimate vary widely. But Cato’s right: if a non-ballistic DGU happens in an urban jungle, and there’s no cop there to arrest anyone it didn’t happen. And yet it did. And it does. Every day of the year. Bottom line: you don’t have to shoot someone to save your life with a gun. But if you have to, you can.

50 Responses to How Many DGUs Are There Anyway?

  1. The anti-gunners express enthusiasm for disarmament, but when asked “OK, so what should I defend myself with, then?” they can’t seem to come up with a decent answer. There was a horrific trail side murder of a woman a few years back. Older, predatory fellow attacked her… she was apparently on the verge of fighting him off, when the tide turned in his favor. He finally tried her to a tree, and cut off her head. None of the usual “suggested alternatives to a gun” helped her – her youth and athleticism didn’t allow her to get away. Her basic martial arts instruction didn’t win against his larger size and ruthlessness. The dog she had with her simply stayed out of the fight.

    • If he was hung on live television during the Superbowl maybe some deterrent would be generated however the same people who would disarm you cater to criminals and work hard to make them comfortable in jail.

      • Deterrence can only go so far. If someone is a complete psychopath, and not operating on any rational basis, it doesn’t matter what punishments you attach, they’re going to commit the crime anyway. That means personal defense is the ultimate solution. There’s no guarantee that she would have been able to save herself if she had been armed with a gun, but her chances would have been much better.

        And of course, of all the self defense options, the handgun is the most effective for the least amount of input from the user. Martial arts techniques, blades, and blunt impact weapons require strength and physical proximity to use, putting the user at increased risk. Pepper spray can be effective, but it’s mostly tool to give you time and space to evade and for those with limited mobility it’s not a great solution. Dogs are of questionable reliability. Police are usually too far away to be a factor, and will in most cases just record the fact the crime occurred and investigate. While it may be great to have access to these solutions, none of them are good replacements for having a gun and knowing how to use it.

  2. Professor John Lott, Professor Gary Kleck and dozens of their peers estimate between 2.5 and 3 million DGU’s a year in the US.

      • Debunked? I think not, it has been peer reviewed and stood up to all that have read the study except the proven liars at the Brady center

      • Not exactly “debunked” -from Wikipedia –
        “No scholars now claim that legalizing concealed weapons causes a major increase in crime.” – Glenn, David (May 9, 2003). “‘More Guns, Less Crime’ Thesis Rests on a Flawed Statistical Design, Scholars Argue”. The Chronicle of Higher Education 49 (35): A18. Retrieved 2007-05-27.

        “As Lott critics Ian Ayres and John J. Donohue III pointed out: “We conclude that Lott and Mustard have made an important scholarly contribution in establishing that these laws have not led to the massive bloodbath of death and injury that some of their opponents feared. On the other hand, we find that the statistical evidence that these laws have reduced crime is limited, sporadic, and extraordinarily fragile.” -Ian Ayres and John J. Donohue III, “Shooting Down the More Guns, Less Crime Hypothesis”, 55 Stanford Law Review 101 (2003)

        • Well, if the discussion is about the effect of gun LAWS, I have no basis for argument, they haven’t affected my life much, as I was carrying for over 30 years before I ever got a license, including 5 years after the license became available to me, and my training courses never taught me a thing about guns, although I was fascinated to learn my state allows carry of a blade up to 5 1/2 inches without any license. I mean, have you ever held a Cold Steel 5 inch folder? Sheesh! Feels like a sword! So carry laws, in fact, never affected me at all! But none of that changes or even addresses the premise that guns are used in self defense millions of times per year regardless of any law. And anyone who claims that has been “debunked” somehow has been listening to the statist media and failing to use his brain.

      • This from someone who quotes statistics that call 21 year olds children and uses studies that claim that the probablities of being a victim of either gun violence or an accidental shooting to be uniform throughout the population.

  3. Wow. The map shows a burglary in Portland. It’s getting dangerous here. I better go out for one final salmon dinner and then move deep into the Gorge.

    • Well, what inflates the numbers more than anything else is the fact that many so-called DGUs are not that at all. They are aggressive and often criminal. Before you ask for proof, I’ll tell you I’m using my famous common sense and logic, that’s all. Just think about it. Imagine all the close calls, all the times a gun comes out unnecessarily and/or prematurely. Every one of those guys claims to have been justified, what else would they do?

      About the Cato report, they’re guilty of what you guys keep criticizing me for. They took these incidents from “news reports.” They concluded something vague like there are “a lot” of DGUs. At least I put some estimated percentages to my ideas.

      It’s hypocritical to disparage me for basing my theories on news reports and of fleshing out those reports to support my theories and then turn around and give this Cato story the old two thumbs up.

      • Define “unnecessary” and “premature”. What standard are you using for those? Why are we to assume that there are a great many such cases?

      • Mikey, if you believe you’re famous for common-sense and logic, we’re going to have to hold an intervention. The thumb’s up something, alright. The FBI forms estimates of DGU, and you can find them on their lovely website, or directly via Google. Did you grow up in the US? I think you have a simplistic idea of the unique tensions that affect American life. What would you make of this: African-American murder rate/100,000=17.9, Non-AA or hispanic rate 3.2. This comment isn’t about racism. It is about large displacements, cultural norms, education levels, and attitudes, about the American experience through 1.5 centuries of rapid immigration and mobility, instability. It is about politics. Rome, Naples,and especially Calabria…are probably more in need of weapons lectures than US suburbanites. I’m curious…why are you not steering your efforts toward nearby provinces ruled by the N’dragheta or Comorra? Answer?

        • Wow, you know your Italian mafias. That’s pretty impressive.

          To answer your question, which believe me I wish I had a Euro for every time I have, about why I’m interested in the US gun debate, it’s this. I’m as American as you are. In your provincial world view, please insert a couple new-fangled inventions they’ve come up with. One is air travel and the other is the internet.

          The world is a lot bigger thay you think and it’s a lot smaller too. Ya follow me?

        • “I’m as American as you are.”

          I disagree. Americans typically live in America. You may be an ex-pat American or whatever you want to call yourself. You may have the same rights afforded to you as I. But I wouldn’t say you are every bit as American.

        • Mike, I’m with roping and ruff. Your “American” credentials are a bit tarnished in my eyes since you won’t live here.

          FYI, I am willing to wager that the stamps on the blue, black and red passports that I have held over the years far exceed what is on yours.

  4. I hate to say it, but this map, if remotely comprehensive, really “proves” the opposite: Defensive Gun Use is rare in most areas of the US (Not all, mind you: know your LOCAL risks when conducting your emergency planning.).

    That is “From 2004 to present”, so a 7 year period. In a population of 300,000,000.

    If you did a similar map of “People killed by deer”, it would overwhelm the map with ~900 spots: White Tail Deer alone are estimated to kill 130 people a year. Add in injuries (20K+/year) and it wolud be a sea of blood . (America’s Most Dangerous Animal).

    So to save lives with a gun, you’d likely do better bagging a deer a year. (They are tasty to boot. 🙂 )

    • The Cato Institute says the map is not comprehensive, because it is based on media accounts, and therefore one would presume just a sampling of the cases.

      • Right. But the problem with that argument is there ARE media accounts of defensive gun use. If the local media cover it, its rare. “Man Bites Dog” gets coverage, “Dog Bites Man” is ignored.

        Since “chasing off burglar with a gun” commonly gets some press, and “shooting a burglar with a gun” gets all over the 6-o-clock news, you know they are (fortunately) rare events, simply because they do get coverage.

        • Not necessarily. Since STFU is a good idea after a DGU, a fair number of cases would go unreported not only to the police, but to local media as well. If I didn’t have to shoot, and I wasn’t hurt, I might not feel like blabbling to a local TV station or newspaper. This is especially true if the gun wasn’t legal.

          Gary Kleck found that a lot of his respondents were reluctant to report their DGUs to anyone who sounded official, because they were afraid they might get in trouble. This was one of the reasons the NCVS undercounted DGUs.

        • Take all the relevant violent crime and burglaries. Subtract all those committed against non-carrying people. Then you’ll have an interesting number, the ratio of successful DGU’s among those assaulted who had the means to carry out a DGU over the non-successful DGU’s or failures to implement DGU’s. CATO is making a point, really, about increasing coverage. NIJ has been forming estimates for years, and they are in the range of 800,000 to 2,100,000 per year. Everyone wants to be a statistician. Nobody here seems to have relevant population accurate surveys. So what’s the point of the back-and-forth?

        • I don’t know where you come from but chasing off a burglar without discharging a weapon doesn’t get coverage in my area. Since almost all DGU end without a weapon being fired raw numbers of news reports aren’t a good indicator of the total numbers of DGUs.

        • Where I live, the arrests for shoplifting at wal-mart make the local paper… In an area of 150K people.

          The local paper would go absolutely simian-manure over a “chased away a burglar with a gun” story.

        • Same here–not a lot of news in a small community. One our local DGUs even made the national news (grandma downs methhead).

        • tdiinva, did you really say, “Since almost all DGU end without a weapon being fired?”

          Yet, when I make shit up using nothing more than my reason and logic, you’re one of the first ones to call me on it.

          Please explain this apparent hypocrisy.

        • It’s actually very simple, Mike. Here’s a common example:

          1. Bad guy threatens potential victim.
          2. Victim pulls gun
          3. Bad guy runs away

          That’s a DGU, but no shots were fired. If you don’t think this is a DGU, subtract the gun:

          1. Bad guy threatens potential victim
          2. Potential victim becomes actual victim

          By the way, the first example is a classic case of a DGU that goes unreported in the media and crime statistics.

          You refuse to educate yourself and you limit your thinking about what constitutes a DGU, so your understanding about the nature of how guns actually fit into society remains naïve.

  5. Mr. Farago is correct in his assumption that for every 1 DGU reported there are 5-8 that never get reported. It may be because the gut wasn’t legal to carry, was out of harms way and just wanted to get the hell out of there. What ever the reason, it needs to be documented. I have had 2 separate incidents of my own and,even though it was hell, it was my responsibility to file the reports with the correct authorities. At no time did I ever fire my weapon, in fact I only cocked my firearm once. The one incident came at 3:30am when I was awaken to someone pounding on my door (dead bolts work) and yelling please help me. I grabbed my .40cal from the night stand and went to the front door. There stood a man outside pounding on my door and yelling for help when I opened the door and told him to quiet down. He quieted down and told me some hard luck story and he needed 20$ for gas, I kept insisting I didn’t have 20$ and then the moment his foot hit the threshold of my door I brought my right hand out of my pocket and shoved the little Star 40 up his nose and told him he had 3 seconds to get off my porch and I was already at 2. He turned around and ran so fast down the street to a vehicle waiting on him. I did report it, but all the officer said was did I have a permit? and did anyone get shot. To my knowledge thay was the extent of the report.

    • “Mr. Farago is correct in his assumption that for every 1 DGU reported there are 5-8 that never get reported.”

      How in the hell are you gonna reach 2.5 million at that rate?

      • Not that you will, but why don’t you read the Kleck-Gertz paper where that analysis came from: http://www.guncite.com/gcdgklec.html?

        It describes in detail the survey methodology, the analytical methodology, the efforts they made to ensure the analysis wouldn’t overcount DGUs, and explains why the data being relied upon at the time to drive the gun control debate was flawed.

        Twenty other criminalogical surveys have found results that support Kleck’s work. He did solid work and followed where the evidence led and that led him to the conclusion that guns save lives and law abiding citizens shouldn’t be denied access to them or the right to carry them.

  6. This battle of statistics is ultimately irrelevant. What we know for sure is that more guns does not mean more crime or blood in the streets or any other bullsh!t that hustlers and tr0lls like mikey spew incessantly.

    Whether there are ten successful DGUs or ten million will never be established precisely. And personally, I don’t want to get bogged down in numbers. If there are some successful DGUs, that’s enough. If gun use saves someone I care about from death, dismemberment or rape, that’s all the statistics that I need. I think all of us can say the same thing.

  7. Any of you that are members of the NRA will know that there are typically a dozen stories of DGU in the front of each issue of their magazine under the column heading of “Armed Citizen”. I have personal knowlege of 3 incidents of DGU that never got reported to any police or media. the folks involved didn’t want to have their identity recorded or linked to the incident in any way that would allow the bad guys to locate them for another attempt or revenge. None of these 3 incidents involved firing a weapon, no injuries occured, bad guys left in a hurry, good guys left intact to live another day. And they all happened over 25 years ago, so I really don’t remember the details to be able to relate them here.

      • With over 330,000,000 folks in the USA, a 2.5 million DGU per year would be less than 1% of the total population (actually about 1 out of 134). OK, not all of those folks own a gun to be defensive with, but estimates are that there are 80,000,000 gun owners in the country which would mean there would be a roughly 3% chance of a gun owner being involved in a DGU. That means that 97% of us this year won’t be involved in a DGU (hopefully). Yep 2 1/2 million sounds like a lot until you look at the total picture.

  8. The vast majority of DGUs go completely unreported. Yesterday’s post on a DGU in Chicago is typical; the gun owner didn’t contact police after scaring off his potential attackers—for fear of legal retribution.

    Been there and I kept my mouth shut and the 870 stashed in the house when the cops finally showed up after 15 minutes and going to the wrong address.

  9. Now let’s look at someother statistics. Acording to the FBI, there were 1,200,000 violent crimes reported in 2010. How many ATTEMPTED crimes were there that never got reported? If we assume that there were over 1 million unreported DGUs, wouldn’t that mean that the actual crime rate in the US is nearly double?

    • Mark, in some cases, doubling the actual rate of violent crime wouldn’t go nearly far enough. Rapes are the textbook example: My statistics are a bit outdated, but in 1995 the FBI estimated that only 37% of all rapes were reported to the police. U.S. Justice Department statistics were even lower, with only 26% of all rapes or attempted rapes being reported to law enforcement officials. Some women’s rights groups went further, estimating that only 14% of rapes are reported.

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