If you’ve been reading about defensive uses of firearms against bears, you’ve likely read that bear spray is more effective than firearms. That a large percentage of people faced with bear attacks failed to disengage the safety. Both are based on a highly flawed study.
A TTAG commentator reckoned that maybe 20 percent of defenders against ursine assault failed to switch off their pistol’s safety. The commenter found the study by Tom Smith and Stephen Herroro and others, and corrected the number to “8 percent of people who faced a bear failed to disengage the safety.”
I read the paper. It’s easy to misunderstand the numbers. The number of people who failed to disengage the safety are much, much smaller, less than two percent. The total number of firearm users in the study were 215. That means four people out of 215 failed to disengage the safety on their firearm. Roughly the same number (5) shot and missed the bear.
If you read the study carefully the reason for the misunderstanding is clear. The eight percent of failed safety disengagers is eight percent of the people with guns who failed to stop the bear or bears, not eight percent of people who tried to stop the bear or bears.
The overall percentage of people who successfully stopped the bear with a gun was a bit over 76 percent. When only handguns were considered, the percentage was just short of 84 percent! In fact, the study found handguns to be more effective than long guns.
The study has numerous flaws, the most glaring being that incidents where injuries to humans occurred were highly oversampled. There was a strong selection bias toward incidents where firearms failed. From the study:
Finally, additional records would have likely improved firearm success rates from those reported here, but to what extent is unknown.
This study is widely reported in the media to claim that firearms are not as effective as bear spray for protection against bear attack.
The study is not persuasive science. A previous study, Human Injuries from Bears in Alaska, shows completely different results.
That study examined over a thousand Defense of Life and Property reports in Alaska from 1986 to 1996. Only two percent of these incidents resulted in any injury to the people involved. That study was not mentioned in the bear attack study done by Mr. Smith and Mr. Herrero.
©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
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