Why do gun owners bother buying with firearms? The odds are so far against any individual ever needing to use a gun for self-defense, it’s insane to keep those dangerous things around where they can be stolen or used in anger against a family member.
That’s the gist of an NPR analysis (your tax dollars at work) which tries to make the case for the cool, clear logic behind the anti-gun left’s efforts to reduce the number of firearms owned by civilians in America.
The latest data show that people use guns for self-defense only rarely. According to a Harvard University analysis of figures from the National Crime Victimization Survey, people defended themselves with a gun in nearly 0.9 percent of crimes from 2007 to 2011.
Our old friend, Dr. David Hemenway is back yet again to tell us that the risks of gun ownership simply outweigh any potential benefits.
“The average person … has basically no chance in their lifetime ever to use a gun in self-defense,” he tells Here & Now‘s Robin Young. “But … every day, they have a chance to use the gun inappropriately. They have a chance, they get angry. They get scared.”
But the research spread by the gun lobby paints a drastically different picture of self-defense gun uses. One of the most commonly cited estimates of defensive gun uses, published in 1995 by criminologists Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, concluded there are between 2.2 and 2.5 million defensive gun uses annually.
The Kleck and Gertz estimate has always been on the higher end of the defensive gun use spectrum.
“The Kleck-Gertz survey suggests that the number of DGU respondents who reported shooting their assailant was over 200,000, over twice the number of those killed or treated [for gunshots] in emergency departments,” crime prevention researcher Philip Cook wrote in the book Envisioning Criminology.
Kleck says there is no record of these gunshot victims because most instances of self-defense gun use are not reported.
True enough. That because, in the vast majority of instances, defensive gun uses don’t involve firing a weapon. And . . .
“If you tell the police, I just wielded a gun pointing a deadly weapon at another human being and claimed it was in self-defense, the police are going to investigate that,” he tells Young, “and they may well in the short run arrest you and treat you as a criminal until and unless you are cleared.”
On the flipside, Kleck says, criminals who were wounded after a gun was used in self-defense also have no incentive to go to the emergency room because medical professionals have an obligation to report it to the police. But Hemenway points out that if people don’t go to the hospital to treat the original gunshot wound, they will inevitably end up there “with sepsis or other major problems.”
Don’t like Kleck’s and Gertz’s numbers, Dr. Hemenway? Fine. Let’s go with the Centers for Disease Control’s study that President Obama commissioned. They found a minimum of 500,000 DGU and reliable estimates as high as 3 million. And for argument’s sake, we’ll take the bottom number.
Even that lower total far outweighs any estimates of the number of criminal gun uses (about 300,000 per year). Which means there are at least half a million times a year that firearms are used to prevent, assaults, robberies, rapes and murders. Crimes like this one that happened on Friday in Tucson:
Police said a woman shot a man who allegedly threatened her with a hatchet outside of a store on Tucson’s south side Friday night. …
Investigators said the woman was leaving a store in the 4400 block of south 6th Avenue. She entered her vehicle and as she attempted to close the door the man approached her and demanded her car keys while holding a hatchet.
TPD said the woman retrieved a handgun and told the man to leave. As the man raised the hatchet, she shot him, police said. She was able to keep the man from leaving the scene until officers arrived.
NPR and Hemenway would like that un-named Tucson woman to know that she’s statistically safer without the handgun she used to protect herself from the hatchet-wielding man. We’d pay good money to witness that conversation.
In addition to balance and common sense, there’s another aspect of civilian gun ownership that’s missing from the arguments presented in the NPR article: original intent. The Second Amendment wasn’t included in the Bill of Rights as a crime-stopping measure. Nor does it mention hunting. The right to keep and bear arms was included by the Founders because it’s “necessary to the security of a free State.”
That’s right, the reason we have civilian firearms ownership in the US — much to the chagrin of civilian disarmament advocates like Hemenway and his willing stenographers in the media — is as a check against government tyranny. The fact that we can and do also use our guns to defend our lives, our families and our property from criminals (and stock the freezer with tasty protein) are just a couple of handy side benefits.
So NPR and the good doctor will have to forgive us if their arguments claiming that Americans don’t really need to own firearms fall on deaf ears. Need — no matter how it’s defined — doesn’t have anything to do with it.