Palm Beach Post Guest Columnist and Gun Grabber Tom Gabor is Entitled to His Own Opinion. But Not His Own Facts

In Guns for self-defense mean more costs, not more benefits, Palm Beach Post guest columnist Tom Gabor writes:The shooting death of Trayvon Martin has brought into focus the use of firearms in self-defense. Florida has been a leader in enacting laws that authorize the use of lethal force (“stand your ground”), promote the carrying of concealed firearms, permit citizens to take guns to work and prevent counties and cities from enacting gun ordinances.” Problem? For you and me, no. For the former professor of Criminology, criminal justice consultant (i.e., expert witness) and author, it’s a prelude to a kiss-off . . .

Proponents justify these laws by invoking the most frightening scenarios, in which people are confronted by armed assailants and possession of a gun would purportedly save their lives. Indeed, there are documented cases in which the display or discharge of a gun did ward off or immobilize/kill an attacker. Sound public policy, however, requires that we move beyond anecdotes and examine the evidence exploring the net benefits or costs of defensive gun use.

Now if I were to take this ball and rul with it, the resulting article would turn out something like this: Defensive Gun Uses Save the U.S. One Trillion Dollars Per Year. It would be based on sound scientific analysis of legitimate source data, crunching the numbers as conservatively as possible. But then I didn’t write scientifically dubious reports which both Scotland and Australia used to justify post-spree killing tightening of their nation’s draconian gun laws.

Speaking of fear, Tom get Palm Beach Post readers from there (above) to here (his conclusion):

High-profile shootings by neighborhood vigilantes may contribute to this insecurity. Floridians may wish to reflect on this, since visitors, especially those from places with far more restrictive gun laws, may seek other destinations.

So guns are bad for business and bad for you. Tom bases this claim almost entirely on two very questionable sets of government statistics. First, he uses the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program to count “justifiable homicides” . . .

FBI statistics for 2010 indicate that for every justifiable homicide by a private citizen using a firearm there were approximately 50 criminal homicides with a firearm. When suicides by firearm and fatal gun accidents are considered, there were about 115 deaths through the misuse of a firearm for every justifiable homicide in which a private citizen shot and killed another in self-defense.

There are just a few problems with this approach. First, study after study has shown that overall suicide rates are independent of method. Reducing “gun availability” (whatever that means) may lead to lower rates of suicide by firearm, but overall rates remain unchanged. Which means you cannot reasonably include suicides in your “misuse of a firearm” statistic.

Second, the FBI does not define “justifiable homicide” the way everyone else does. Their definition states:

Justifiable homicide — Certain willful killings must be reported as justifiable or excusable. In the UCR Program, justifiable homicide is defined as and limited to:

  • The killing of a felon by a peace officer in the line of duty.
  • The killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.

As The Guardian (hardly a ‘gun-lobby rag’) points out in their piece on 04/05/12, not only are the FBI’s data incomplete (since Florida, Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia and Vermont do not report justifiable homicides to the FBI) but:

Even a cursory look at the FBI file makes it clear that it’s probable the justifiable homicide rates are undercounted even when you have “complete” data from a state. A large number of deaths are reported as “99”: “All instances where facts provided do not permit determination of circumstances.” How many of those were justifiable homicides will never be known.

You only have to look at the FBI’s supplemental homicide report to realize that their numbers don’t pass the laugh test. Nine-hundred and seventy-five civilian justifiable homicides in five years?!?

Clayton Cramer in chapter 5 of his book Firing Back points out two more problems with the FBI data.

It is certainly true that the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports only showed 308 civilian justifiable homicides with guns in 1992.[9] But there is a considerable body of evidence that shows these figures greatly understate the total number of cases in which a criminal is shot dead by a civilian. If you want to know how many civilians kill criminals each year, you need to look at not only justifiable homicides, but also the “sudden combat” excusable homicides . . .

There is another problem with the FBI’s figures for justifiable homicide … If the police investigate a homicide and ask the district attorney to charge someone with murder or manslaughter, that is reported as a murder or manslaughter to the UCR program. … If a murder turns into a CLDH after the initial report has been taken, there is a strong possibility that this change won’t make it into the UCR data.

Read the whole chapter, it’s got a lot of good stuff in it and it pretty thoroughly shoots down the idea of using UCR’s data for justifiable homicides.

However, even if Mr. Gabor’s numbers were correct his thesis has another fundamental flaw: killing someone is not the only way a weapon can be used defensively. He touches on this briefly when stating:

When all violent crimes are considered, the Department of Justice’s National Crime Survey reports that in 2010 there were 338,000 violent victimizations with a firearm – excluding another 9,000 gun homicides. That was four times as many as the estimated 85,000 defensive gun uses per year.

Unfortunately the way the NCVS is structured means that it seriously undercounts the number of DGUs. I’ll let Tom Smith explain:

First, it appears that the estimates of the NCVSs are too low. There are two chief reasons for this. First, only DGUs that are reported as part of a victim’s response to a specified crime are potentially covered. While most major felonies are covered by the NCVSs, a number of crimes such as trespassing, vandalism, and malicious mischief are not. DGUs in response to these and other events beyond the scope of the NCVSs are missed.

Second, the NCVSs do not directly inquire about DGUs. After a covered crime has been reported, the victim is asked if he or she “did or tried to do [anything] about the incident while it was going on.” Indirect questions that rely on a respondent volunteering a specific element as part of a broad and unfocused inquiry uniformly lead to undercounts of the particular of interest.

There is another problem with the failure to directly inquire about DGUs; to wit the DGU question is only triggered by someone saying they were the victim of a crime. Now if someone came towards me with a knife saying “Gimme your wallet” and I put my hand on my weapon and replied “I don’t think so, Skippy” causing the assailant to retreat, was I actually the victim of a crime? Before I started researching these issues I would have told the NCVS interviewer that no, I hadn’t been the victim of a crime so they never would have learned of my DGU.

So if the NCVS numbers are questionable, where should we go to find how many DGUs there are per year?

Well according to the study performed by Drs. Kleck and Gertz  from the early 1990s, there are between 2.1 and 2.5 million DGUs annually. Now there are a lot of people out there who deride this number as ludicrous, unable or (more likely) unwilling to accept that Dr. Kleck is not some sort of shill for the Eeevil Gun Lobby™. This, despite the good doctor disclosing in his 1997 book Targeting Guns (quote from GunCite.com):

The author is a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, Independent Action, Democrats 2000, and Common Cause, among other politically liberal organizations He is a lifelong registered Democrat, as well as a contributor to liberal Democratic candidates. He is not now, nor has he ever been, a member of, or contributor to, the National Rifle Association, Handgun Control, Inc. nor any other advocacy organization, nor has he received funding for research from any such organization.

But skeptics will always be skeptical and antis will always prefer their own “reality” so (without questioning its validity) let’s go ahead and throw the K-G number out in favor of a more conservative one. Let’s use the numbers from the study which was commissioned by the Clinton DoJ shortly after the K-G study came out (to refute the K-G numbers maybe? If so: Oops!). That study, conducted by Dr.s Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig (very strong proponents of very strict gun control) concluded that there were 1.46 million DGUs per year.

So rather than being a small fraction of the crimes committed with guns, there are actually more than 4 times as many DGUs as there are violent victimizations with a firearm.

But even if none of this were the case; even if violent crime committed with guns far exceeded DGUs, it would not matter, because the freedom to own and carry the weapon of your choice is a natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil, and Constitutional right — subject neither to the democratic process nor to arguments grounded in social utility.

Mr. Gabor then trots out the “studies” performed by folks like Dr. Kellerman et. al.:

Many studies have shown that guns kept in the home are far more likely to be used against family members or involved in suicides or accidents than actions against intruders. In one study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, Drs. Arthur L. Kellermann and Donald T. Reay found that for every self-defense homicide involving a firearm kept in the home, there were 43 suicides, criminal homicides or fatal accidents of residents.

Now there are a legion of methodological flaws in this study (which Dave Kopel dissects in “The Fallacy of ’43 to 1′“) but there is one particular thing which I find very telling: None of the antis mention what the comparison is for homes without firearms. Guncite.com did the analysis which, using the exact same methods that Drs. Kellerman and Reay used shows that in a home without a firearm you are ninety-nine times more likely to have a non-gun death as you are to have a non-gun defensive homicide. In other words, according to the Kellerman study you are more than twice as safe in a home with a gun as in a home without one.

Mr. Gabor continues:

The potential value of guns as a protective tool in the home is also lessened by the number of burglaries prompted by the presence of guns. Burglaries in which guns are taken total close to 200,000 per year.

Wow, that’s a big number! But according to the Brady Campaign, that number is only 95,460. And according to Mayors Against All Illegal Guns that number is 600,000. And according to a USA Today report from 2002, it went from 221,322 in 1993 to 138,035 in 2001. And according to the Legal Community Against Gun Ownership Violence (quoting Cook and Leitzel) that number is “more than half a million”.

Guys, pick a number. Sheesh! Speaking of picking a number, Mr. Gabor continues:

A Justice Department study found that each year just 1 percent of all victims reported using a firearm to defend themselves, even though 25 percent of American adults are gun owners.

I have no idea where he picked that 25% number from, since a Gallup poll taken between October 6th and 9th, 2011 reported:

Forty-seven percent of American adults currently report that they have a gun in their home or elsewhere on their property. This is up from 41% a year ago and is the highest Gallup has recorded since 1993, albeit marginally above the 44% and 45% highs seen during that period.

But on we go with more misleading factoids:

Moreover, gun experts note that combat in the real world is highly stressful, and a very small percentage of bullets hit the target. Furthermore, stressful situations can lead to errors in judgment and to overreaction, which may have been factors in the Martin tragedy . . .

Which again assumes that a gun can only be used defensively by shooting someone. But the Kleck-Gertz study cited above found that only 15.6% of DGUs involved firing a weapon. As for the implication that gun owners shoot recklessly, only about 2% of citizen shootings kill an innocent bystander. By comparison, 11% of police shootings kill innocent people.

And on to the next unsupported incorrect overbroad statement by Mr. Gabor:

The evidence is overwhelming that the use of firearms in a conflict increases the likelihood of a fatality.

Au contraire, the evidence is overwhelming that defensive gun uses 1) are the safest way to respond to an assault, as shown by Dr. Gary Kleck’s analysis of NCVS data published in Armed: New Perspectives on Gun Control (available at Guncite.com). Second, a conservative estimate of DGUs shows that they save twice as many lives as are taken by CGUs.

And just how did I come up with such a startling figure?  If you go to Kleck and Gertz’s article Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun you will see  that they found 15.7% of people involved in a DGU believed that they “almost certainly” saved their life of someone else’s.

Now that might strike some people as being an awfully big number, but if you take into account the fact that most states regard pulling a gun on someone the equivalent of using deadly force, and combine it with the fact that most states also require someone to be in “reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm” before they can lawfully use deadly force, the number seems more feasible.

In addition to the “almost certainly” pool, The K-G study also found that 14.6% of respondents believed that someone “probably would have” been killed if not for their DGU.

Because I want my numbers to be definitely on the conservative side, let’s say that 9 out of 10 of the “almost certainly” folks were wrong, and lets say that 99 out of 100 of the “probably” people were also incorrect. That means we can state with a fair degree of certainty that at least 1.716% of the 1.46 million annual DGUs saved a life. Doing the math that translates to over 25,000 lives that are saved annually by guns.

So we’ve determined that at least 25,000 lives per year are saved by DGUs, and according to the CDC, between 1999 and 2009 there were an average of 11,800 gun-related homicides annually, which means that for every criminal homicide with a firearm there were more than two lives saved by DGUs.

Mr. Gabor starts winding up with:

National surveys conducted by the Injury Control Research Center and the National Opinion Research Center show that Americans, by a wide margin, feel less safe when they believe that more people in their community are acquiring or carrying guns.

The only actual numbers I could find come from a Gallup poll done almost 7 1/2 years ago which found that 65% of respondents would feel less safe in a public place where concealed firearms were allowed. Of course, in 2004 “shall-issue” laws were still relatively new and the “open carry” movement had not started to take off so there would have been a lot of people who didn’t realize they were already in public spaces with concealed carriers. Now, however, according to a KTBS.com story:

A recent Gallup poll found that 43% of American women are packing heat these days and that number is on the rise.
So since fewer women carry than men, I think it is safe to say that 65% of the public no longer feels unsafe around concealed carriers.

Tom, bubbelah, the simple fact of the matter is that since Florida passed “shall-issue” its crime rate has plummeted (even when compared to the rest of the country).

Furthermore, between 10/01/87 and 03/31/12 the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Licensing has issued 2,167,283 concealed carry permits. Over that whole time there have been 168 revoked for a crime committed with a firearm. One hundred and sixty eight out of more than two million!

This means that 0.00775% of permit holders, or 7.75 per 100,000 have committed a crime with a firearm. Which, actually, is completely irrelevant since the freedom to own and carry the weapon of your choice is a natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil, and Constitutional right — subject neither to the democratic process nor to arguments grounded in social utility [L. Neil Smith, Letter to a Liberal Colleague].

Bottom line: Florida streets are not running red with blood and people aren’t being shot over parking spots. It’s going to be alright Tom. Really.