Smith & Wesson 686 (courtesy
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Marking the anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre, CBS News conducted a national poll on firearms and firearms-related issues. While the news org’s post focuses on attitudes towards mass shootings and gun control, there’s a lot of fascinating data in the survey that didn’t make the highlight reel. Check out the stats on defensive gun use (DGUs) . . .

CBS poll on defensive gun use (courtesy

That’s astounding. Eighty-one percent of the gun owners surveyed are at least somewhat confident that they could use their firearm to stop a threat. Another nineteen percent — the rest of the sample — figure they stand a fighting chance. Which of course they do.

That said, the survey question is flawed. The third choice should have been “not confident.” Full stop.

Adding “but at least I’d have a chance” encourages respondents who might have answered “somewhat confident” to select the third option. Stripped of the addition, what’s the difference between “somewhat confident” and “not that confident”?

Also, the question is vague. What does “resolve a situation” mean? Perforate the perp? Use the gun to scare the bad guy off? Or point and scoot?

There’s very little statistical data on defensive gun uses. Estimates of frequency vary wildly. But it’s often said that most DGUs end without a shot fired. Successfully.

So maybe the vast majority of gun owners are right to be confident in their ability to end a threat by force of arms. If so, is that confidence based on experience?

The CBS poll doesn’t tell us how many gun owner have received firearms instruction, mandatory or otherwise. But it clearly indicates that gun owners — and non-gun owners — favor mandatory training.

CBS poll result for mandatory firearms training (courtesy

There are a lot of ways to interpret this result. I think it indicates an underserved desire for firearms training amongst gun owners, and an opportunity for firearms manufacturers to sell more guns by luring non-gun owners with training (fulfilling the first rule of sales…make it easy to buy).

Your take?

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  1. “So maybe the vast majority of gun owners are right to be confident in their ability to end a threat by force of arms. If so, is that confidence based on experience?”

    Judging by the amout of incompetence I see at the range, either all the competent people are practicing elsewhere or people tend to ave an overinflated of perception oftheir own skill. Persoanlly, I always think I need more training–you can really never get enough.

  2. Remember that one police department determined 30% of criminals use unloaded guns or guns with the wrong ammo, 10.5% use guns that are utterly broken and 20% use guns that were effectively broken. Just from that you have over 60% of criminal guns being non-functional and that’s only the ones that are actually carrying a gun instead of replica/toy/airsoft (15%). With that low a rate the guy with a working gun will win.

    • I still don’t want to find out that the criminal I’m confronting is one of the minority with a “real” gun, vs one that has a flag that pops out, saying “boom”

    • I’m confident that there is a lot of overlap between guns unloaded or with wrong ammo, and guns that are broken or effectively broken. If a criminal can’t obtain a working gun, then he probably can’t obtain any/correct ammo either. So the percentage of criminals with useless guns is probably near 50%, not 60%.

      If someone points a gun at me or mine, I’m going to assume it is a deadly weapon.

    • There was a video out a while back of a guy robbing a food joint and the clerk was one cool cucumber and just handed over the cash. I could clearly see that the slide on the thug’s gun was not closed all the way. I don’t know if the clerk could see it. Had I noticed it, the thug would have eaten some lead. If this link won’t post, it’s on YouTube. Look up Jimmy John’s Robbery.

      • The terribly sad thing is that 76% of the respondents opined that training “should be required” before any purchase. Is training a good idea? Perhaps. I’ve personally observed some so-called qualified trainers that barely knew how to handle a gun themselves. While I think that anyone who owns a gun should avail themselves of some training, making training mandatory before one can exercise a constitutionally enumerated right is anathema to freedom and should be resisted with all possible tenacity. That so many people have been brainwashed into believing that they are incapable of responsible gun ownership until they “get training” is so sad.

  3. The response should be 100%. If you don’t think you can win, you are facilitating your own demise. Why would one tote a firearm without the associated warrior spirit? Using a gun as a talisman? Is that being a responsible gun owner/carrier?

    • LOl, because some of us are over 50 and haven’t been in a real threat environment in 20 years? Hell, I’m tired all the damn time now as it is, if I was frosty all day I would probably have a nervous breakdown.

      • I understand your situation, youngster. However, lacking confidence in your ability to achieve a successful outcome leads to hesitancy, does it not? Leads to delayed response? Leads to a fear that might prevent you from taking proper action? There is a huge difference between acknowledging that one cannot guarantee an outcome, and believing the same.

  4. Dang. Thought it would be higher.

    Kinda think I’d survive a defensive driving incident as well.

    Can’t ever know for sure, but plan for success or you’re planning to fail.

    I also think it’s like a fist fight or a knife fight….even if you win/survive … you are likely to be injured.

    Based on experience, i think the gun offers the best chance to emerge unscathed.

  5. Does anyone actually believe that the majority of polls by media organizations mean anything? I see this all the time, “Polls say ….”. I respond, “and?”

    In this case, the result is somewhat interesting but I’ll note that other polls have show that 80% of the population thinks that they are an ‘above average driver’. What, exactly, an average driver is I don’t know but, unless it is a heavily weighted average, I’m confident that 80% are not above the mean.

    I wonder what the average person thinks their understanding of basic statistics is, on average, relative to the mean.

  6. The mental part of a DGU is as important and maybe more important than ability. Saying you can shoot someone and doing so are a long way apart. Shooting a person for most people goes against everything they were taught growing up. By that I mean causing harm to another person. Shooting another human takes you down a road that most people have never tread. It’s easy to say you can but hard when the time comes. Make peace with yourself now before that time comes and hope it never does. Watching someone bleed out and seeing the life fade from their eyes is a hard thing.

  7. The majority of dgu’s are won without a shot being fired. Just having the gun and showing the willingness to take that extra step sends the bad guys running.

    As for shots fired dgu’s? I’m willing to bet that in cases where that is required the good guy wins the vast majority. The bad guys are mostly drug addled, low intellect types( I know. Sounds like anti gun trolls, doesn’t it?) that want an easy mark. They don’t want to fight and the guns they carry are mostly throw away weapons they have little or no experience with.

  8. “The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus four percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher and is available by request. (by which they mean “Fuck you, we’re not showing our internals unless you’re another media organization and probably sign and NDA”).

    I’ll say this flat out, and it’s not something I say about polling very often: CBS can eat a giant bag of dicks with this poll. Fuck them. Show your internals (which I’ve looked for and didn’t find, see quote above) or your poll is bogus and you know it [Clap your hands.]. No one should ever have to “request” your internals. You should put them out for all to see or just admit you’re lying because you’re refusing to show your work.

    Oh, also, +/-4%? Pathetic. That’s the boarderline for “junk” polling. That combined with no internals? Jesus, how the hell are people getting paid for this shit?

    • “how the hell are people getting paid for this shit?” Because people still consume it. Yes, there are still people who turn on the TV all day long and watch whatever crap flows out. I don’t know how they can stand it.

  9. Unless someone walks up to you without warning and shoots you you should be aware enough to be able to defend yourself. Most bad guys can’t shoot and from the vids I’ve seen I might stand still and just shoot back instead of getting off the X. Probably depends on the distance involved. Light bulb moment! That’s what we need! A training vid using gang bangers vs regular folks with paint marker guns. And street based scenarios. What do you think?

  10. I put it in the same category as drivers. The majority of whom consider themselves better drivers than most others are, which is mathematically impossible, of course.

    Still, one’s assessment of your chances are your own. You still have the right to keep and bear arms and decide for yourself. I don’t want the government to decide for you.

    Same with your right to free speech. Walk right up and ask out that Israeli supermodel. It isn’t government’s place to keep you from going down in flames there, either. Take the shot.

    • Yeah, well, all those Israeli supermodels are just full of themselves and the reason they don’t go out with me is because they are all closet lesbians and they are not really interested in dating a REAL man and they are all actually not even Israeli and they are just claiming to be because the new WonderWoman is and she is hot and I DM’d her but she won’t respond because she is stuck up and afraid of real men.

        • Sort of an inside joke among longtime TTAG readers. There used to be regular features and references to various Israeli supermodels here.

          Like Southwest Airline stewardesses in hotpants back in the day (youtube it!), for various reasons, that feature was retired. Occasionally, someone will make the out of the blue reference to them. Someone else may pick it up and run with it, just for fun.

  11. I hear about these national polls being taken. Are they only in metro areas? They must be very selective because in my entire adult life I have never been polled for anything (I live in a rural area) . And I’m 69 years old.

  12. This is unsurprising. Most everybody start out in the state of Unconscious Incompetence. You don’t know what you don’t know.

    I wonder if there is correlation between the categories and training / competition. E.g. 81% of people have never shot against a timer.

    See Dunning-Krueger effect.

  13. That’s because 81% have Rambo fantasies. A gunfight is 50/50 and bad guys are likely to have an edge because of the element of surprise.

  14. A better question would be

    How sure are you that you would prevail in a case brought against you for a DGU? Civil or criminal?

    In many locales you get the shit end of the stick .

    • Well said! To survive a DGU you have to survive both the gunfight AND the legal system. Best to avoid situations that might lead to a DGU quickly. The criminal does not care about the conviction because he chose a life of crime; you could lose your family, livelihood and future employment.

  15. All real Americans love to win all the time. All real Americans love a winner, and will not tolerate a loser. And all real Americans love the sting of battle.

  16. Why bother going the legal route? Unlike on TV, spent shell casings don’t hold prints in real life. If you waste some dirt bag no one will miss anyway just waste him and roll.

  17. 32 comments and not one mention of force on force training. I have not partaken of it myself due to cost and time, but I think 81% have of the people surveyed have the wrong answer based on the first hand reports I have.

  18. I don’t know if I would win, not knowing the details of the potential situation. But I will most certainly lose if completely unarmed.

    Guns are weird, you hear of accidental .22lr shootings to an arm or leg that are fatal and police shootings with multiple hits to center mass that survive.

  19. The big issue is sometimes your confidence can out weigh your actual skill level. I’ve met people who were very confident in their shooting ability, then the first 3 gun match they are in they can’t shoot for crap. 9/10 times they say “wow for some reason I was nervous when the timer went off” if a beep from a timer can effect your shooting that much how would someone trying to do you bodily harm effect it?

    I agree self doubt is a up-hill battle, but a realistic determination of your skill set followed by training to fix those issues is the best course of action.

  20. I’m all for good training! Take as much of it as your pocketbook and calendar allow. But I am absolutely against it being required or mandated. We are talking about a natural (God given) universal inalienable right. It is the responsibility of the gun owner to pursue training. The industry and sport, and peer pressure from fellow gun enthusiasts can and will go a long way toward getting people trained.

  21. “Do you think weapons training should be required … similar to a drivers license…”

    That’s a particularly insidious, crafted conflation. Is “yes” to this endorsing “training is good”, “licenses ‘should’ be required”, or “the government should require training (by any means necessary.)”

    Conflating “training” with all those specific mechanics is Bad and Wrong. Also, not a mistake by the folks who did it. In a world where everyone made sense, they would require training of themselves. In a world where everyone does not make sense, who is to declare what training is required of others? Mandates and ministries are the only thing they know, because they will be the watchers to be trusted.

    Myself, I think training “should” be required in the sense that it’s dumb and dangerous to operate fire arms without some training. And that the cost, misdirection, and opportunity for mischief of mandating this, implemented by the government makes “similar to a drivers license” a complete non-starter. That’s not an option that question allows.

    • The “criminal” just may have more experience in gun fights (generating serious confidence in winning), than the everyday CCW holder.

  22. No type of “training” can be complete without individual efforts to make it part of your life. As an instructor, I met a lot of people who had been to classes, even competition, many with a “permit,” but who never did the personal dry fire or exercises on their own that build both competence and confidence. No class or competition can replace consistent situational awareness or introspection on the use of lethal force. Nobody can do that for you… and though you may prevail in a DGU anyway, you won’t have the tools you really need.

    But if we are all as incompetent as some here indicate, without this holy grail of super “training,” I’d think an awful lot of gun owners would be killing themselves or others every day. Not happening. Training is wonderful. Mindset is essential. I defended my life with a gun once, and had no “training” whatsoever then. Took care of that later.

    And any of these “polls” are simply garbage.

    • ” I defended my life with a gun once, and had no “training” whatsoever then. ”

      And therein lies the conundrum. Of all the successful DGUs, how many succeed only because they trained at all? How many successful murders were committed by people with no training? Does training put one in the mindset that Bruce Lee tried to eliminate: street/gun fights follow certain rituals? Should any gun owner who does not engage in any preparation fear they will not be able to defend themselves?

      Seem to remember a vignette by Ayoob concerning a fellow who was recognized as a highly trained and skilled marksman (competitions?). He was stopped on a roadside, when two guys tried to assault him with guns. The protagonist proceeded to unleash 18 rounds at the bad guys (who were unleashing their own volley), then ran into the adjacent woods while reloading. Our good guy fired another 18 rounds while being shot at again. Seems everyone ran out of ammo, and the bad guys left. Our pilgrim noted that all his training “went out the window” due to the surprise of being attacked, and the disorienting of his gun handling caused by being shot at. The good guy was prepared, and ended up completely unprepared. Did the good guy’s training and experience establish near fatal expectations of a gunfight would unfold, of how controlled would be his nerves and motor skills?

      No answers, here. Only the conundrum.

  23. There are situations I believe I could win. If I am a customer somewhere when criminals come in and commit armed robbery? Sure, if they don’t see me I will shoot them in the back. A carjacker? If he doesn’t shoot me I figure I’ll shoot him once he gets in my car and is distracted.

    Someone has a drawn gun pointed at me? You can’t outdraw a drawn gun. In that case you’re just hoping he won’t shoot you AFTER robbing you.

  24. Question 23 could be 1% confident or 99% confident, depending on the “situation”.

    While the point may be to get a general idea of confidence, the question really demands context. What we have as a survey result is the response to the average (or median?) idea of what a situation is.

  25. Its all about adult puffery, Egotistical ones who say this know the likely hood of this situation happening too them is really really small! Reiterating it inflates their own ego so they can fool them selves into believing that they have proficiency in their own self defense! until you have extensive kill house training with its expansive scenarios and you think you are are proficient, even then it is dicey!

    • We routinely see examples of untrained, and frequently elderly, people win their gunfight against the bad guys. In at least one case the older gentleman had bought his gun and taken it home. The first time he had ever fired that gun or any other was at a bad guy breaking into his house. He won with 1 shot.

      I think people build up a hollywood type scenario in their minds with regards to a dgu. The well trained, well equipped mercenary squad of bad guys doesn’t really exist in the real world.

      The bad guy is going to be a tweaker with a throw away weapon. If he had a better weapon he would trade it for drugs instead of robbing your house.

  26. The poll question about training is also flawed. It asks if *training* should be mandatory, but then calls out a driver’s test as an example. The driver test is a qualification, not training.
    It would be interesting to ask each separately: should there be mandatory training? and should there be minimum qualifications one has to meet to get/renew a license?

  27. The survey is definitely flawed. But even so it makes sense 81% think they would prevail. Your average criminal is not a trained shooter, any moderately disciplined person who can perform and do well at a job can learn to shoot well enough to prevail over some shitbag criminal.


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