Here’s a fact you’ll never see in mainstream media accounts of “gun violence” in America: defensive gun uses save more than twice as many lives than the number lost in criminal gun uses. Here are the numbers:
According to the Kleck-Gertz study from the mid 1990s, there are between 2.1 and 2.5 million defensive gun uses (DGU’s) annually.
Now there are a lot of people out there who deride this number as ludicrous. But they’re unable or (more likely) unwilling to accept that Dr. Kleck is not a shill for the Gun Lobby™. This, despite the good doctor disclosing in his 1997 book Targeting Guns that . . .
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 gotta skeptic. Antis prefer their own “reality.” So let’s go ahead and throw the K-G number out in favor of something more conservative.
Let’s use the numbers from the study commissioned by the Clinton DoJ shortly after the K-G study was published.
That study was conducted by Drs. Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig, longtime proponents of strict gun control. It concluded that there were 1.46 million DGUs per year.
Some reject even this lower number. Instead, they put their faith in the National Crime Victimization Surveys‘ estimate that there are between 50k and 100k DGUs per year. (A number that’s still higher than the number of annual firearms-related homicides.)
The NCVS seriously undercounts the number of DGUs. I’ll let Dr. Tom Smith, Senior Fellow and Director of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago explain:
. . . 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’s another problem with the failure to directly inquire about DGUs: the DGU question is only triggered by someone saying they were the victim of a crime. 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 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 and they never would have learned of my DGU.
To figure out how many lives are saved by defensive gun uses, I turn once again to Kleck and Gertz’s article Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun. They found that 15.7 percent of people involved in a DGU believed that they “almost certainly” saved theirs or someone else’s life.
That might strike some people as an awfully large percentage. But if you take into account the fact that most locales regard the mere act of pulling a gun as deadly force, combined with the fact that most places require someone to be in “reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm” before he or she can lawfully use deadly force, the number seems feasible.
In addition to the “almost certainly” pool, The K-G study also found that 14.6 percent of respondents believed that someone “probably would have” been killed if not for their DGU.
Because I want my numbers to be distinctly conservative let’s say that nine out of 10 of the “almost certainly” folks were wrong. And let’s 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 percentof the 1.46 million DGUs actually saved a life.
That translates to over 25,000 lives saved annually by guns.
According to the CDC, between 1999 and 2010 there were an average of 11,740 gun-related homicides annually. In 2014 the number was 10,945.
Bottom line: for every criminal firearm homicide (most of which consist of criminals shooing other criminals) more than two lives are saved by defensive gun uses.
Protection against government tyranny considerations aside, this is the human value of the Second Amendment.