Monday, April 22, 2013

The Use of Guns for Self-Protection - Who Is Right?

The proponents of gun ownership generally cite examples of situations where gun-toting individuals use firearms to kill criminals or put a sudden stop to the committing of a crime.  Is this really true in the real world?

A recent study by the Violence Policy Center analyzes data from the FBIs Uniform Crime Reporting Program's Supplementary Homicide Report and the Bureau of Justice Statistics' National Crime Victimization Survey to see whether guns really do stop criminals.  In case you haven't heard of the Violence Policy Center, it is a "...non-profit educational organization that conducts research and public education on violence in America and provides information and analysis to policymakers, journalists, advocates and the general public.".  It is headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Now, let's look at the VPC's analysis, starting out by looking at some statistics.  Keep in mind that the FBI defines a "justifiable homicide" as the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.

1.) In 2010, there were only 230 justifiable homicides involving a gun.  Of these, 56.5 percent of the persons killed were strangers and 35.7 percent were known to the shooter.  Of the total, 89.1 percent of the shootings were committed by men.  Of the total, 98.3 percent of the persons shot were men.  Again, of the total shooters, 52.6 percent were white, 44.3 percent were black and 2.2 percent were Asian.  Lastly, of the persons shot, 39.1 percent were white, 60 percent were black and none were Asian.

2.) Between 2006 and 2010, there were only 1031 justifiable homicides involving a gun.  Of these, 57 percent (588 of the 1031 total) of the persons killed were strangers and 31.4 percent (324 of the 1031 total) were known to the shooter.  Of the total, 81.3 percent of the shootings were committed by men.  Of the total, 98.5 percent of the persons shot were men.  Again, of the total shooters, 53.1 percent were white, 40.8 percent were black and 3.3 percent were Asian.  Lastly, of the persons shot, 39.6 percent were white, 58.2 percent were black and 0.4 percent were Asian.

The states with the most justifiable homicides over the five year period are:

Texas with 197
California with 108
Arizona and Florida with 66 each
Michigan with 43

Fifteen states reported no justifiable homicides.

Let's look at the type of firearms used in justifiable homicides between 2006 and 2010.

77.7 percent were handguns
9.1 percent were shotguns
4.5 percent were rifles
8.5 percent were not stated

Now, let's examine the use of guns for self-defense during the five year period from 2007 to 2011 from statistics compiled by the Bureau of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) which has been in existence since 1973.  During the aforementioned five year period, the NCVS estimates that there were 29,618,300 victims of an attempted or completed violent crime.  During that same period of time, only 235,700 of the self-protective behaviours used by victims involved a firearm.  The survey does not show whether a firearm was actually used or whether off-duty law enforcement officers are included.

Here is a chart breaking down the types of self-protective behaviours used:

Surprisingly, only 0.8 percent of violent crimes and attempted violent crimes were answered with the use of a firearm for self-protection.  Firearms are used to protect property in even fewer cases; over the five year period, of the 84.5 million property crimes, guns were used for self-protection only 103,000 times or 0.1 percent of the total.  Interestingly, however, Department of Justice statistics show that between 2005 and 2010, an average of 232,400 guns were stolen every year from American households.   

To put these numbers into perspective, the NRA often quotes the Defensive Gun Use (DGU) number of 2.5 million annually as taken from 1992 research completed by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz in their "Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun" paper.  Here's a quote:

"With a sample size of 4,977, random sampling error of the estimates is small. For example, the all-guns prevalence percent used A estimates, with a 95% confidence interval, are plus or minus 0.32% for past year, person; 0.35% for past year, household; 0.50% for past five years, person; and 0.54% for past five years, household. Given how small these are already, even increasing samples to the size of the enormous ones in the NCVS could produce only slight reductions in sampling error.

Are these estimates plausible? Could it really be true that Americans use guns for self-protection as often as 2.1 to 2.5 million times a year? The estimate may seem remarkable in comparison to expectations based on conventional wisdom, but it is not implausibly large in comparison to various gun-related phenomena. There are probably over 220 million guns in private hands in the U.S.,[57] implying that only about 1% of them are used for defensive purposes in any one year--not an impossibly high fraction. In a December 1993 Gallup survey, 49% of U.S. households reported owning a gun, and 31% of adults reported personally owning one.[58] These figures indicate that there are about 47.6 million households with a gun, with perhaps 93 million, or 49% of the adult U.S. population living in households with guns, and about 59.1 million adults personally owning a gun. Again, it hardly seems implausible that 3% (2.5 million/93 million) of the people with immediate access to a gun could have used one defensively in a given year."

In the same year, Department of Justice NCVS statistics showed that there were only a maximum of 82,000 DGUs.  Kleck and Gertz defend their argument, in part, with this sentence:

"Finally, our survey was superior to the NCVS in two additional ways: it was free of the taint of being conducted by, and on behalf of, employees of the federal government, and it was completely anonymous."

Keep in mind that the NCVS statistics report data only from those that have been a victim of a crime, not from a few thousand randomly selected Americans.

Whether you choose to believe the NRA's take on the use of firearms for self-protection or the conclusions of the Violence Policy Center, you must admit that it is interesting to see just how careful we should all be when listening to statistics regarding gun ownership and use.  Both sides of the issue carefully craft their arguments with statistics that back their viewpoint and totally dismiss the statistics that argue against them.  I, for one, tend to believe the Violence Policy Center's analysis simply because, statistically speaking, the huge sample size probably has less inaccuracies even if "Big Brother" (also known as The Department of Justice) is involved.


  1. One thing that could be the big difference in the numbers is Is perceived use of a firearm for protection. Whether it was aiming the gun at a wild animal or getting the gun because of a strange noise in the middle of the night these are things I would think, would have been counted in the NRA numbers. Also the NRA numbers would have allowed for instances where a gun was displayed and the offending party backed down, with no need for police involvment.

  2. The Daily Show is running this week a three part series on gun control in Australia. After a number of high profile mass killings, the country in 1996 enacted strict controls on guns. Today, only 5.2% of the population own guns and the incidence of gun-related violence is diminished. Not quite America but there is something here worth consideration. Yes, if I don't have a gun I can't defend myself. But on the other hand, if I don't have a gun I can't shoot anybody including myself.


    1. That ranks in the top 3 of the silliest rationalizations I've EVER heard! There may be an instance in your lifetime, indeed, when if you don't have a gun they will need to wipe the crap off of you before they bury you! Everyone should be required by law to own a forearm an be trained to use it defensively! THAT would solve the whole issue as easily and do away with all this psyco babble about firearms!

    2. Well, Anon, I think everyone has access to a forearm; otherwise, how would they use their hands? :P

    3. But non gun violent crime has skyrocketed. So instead of being shot you get stabbed to death and with gun control you can't be able to protect yourself.

    4. Those wishing to do harm in Austrailia now will just use knives, hammers, chainsaws, poisons etc. to do their deeds. all that has been removed is a tool. if there is evil to be done they will find another tool.

    5. The VPC is known for faked data and out in out lies so anything written by Josh Sugarmann or the VPC should be taken with a grain of salt. That being said truth is firearm related deaths have been going down for years.

  3. VPL's head, Josh Sugarman was also communications director for the National Coalition to Ban Handguns.

    Hardly unbiased.
    Hardly balanced or evenhanded.
    This article is equally bogus.

    1. Truth Sugarman is a proven Lier

  4. but, without guns, we would have no 4th of July....

  5. Pit bulls kill jogger – police
    Woman, 63, was running in rural Los Angeles when dogs attacked and mauled her to death, witness and police say

    I bet you guys love this stuff - victims with no means of defense...

  6. First, I didn't see the number of percentage of "illegal" guns in the hands of gangs. While you show the race of the shooter or shootee there is no information of the type of shooter or shootee..criminal? gang? And, I would need to have these figures and stats checked, including the methodology...There have been over 500 shootings in Chicago alone in 2011 by gang bangers...same in CA and New Jersey....

  7. I see the large percentage of justifiable homicides shown here are from handguns. Why is the government so interested in banning assault weapons then? I guess they think most people are too stupid to understand the distinction between the two. From what it seems, democrats really are too stupid to understand the difference.

  8. Highly biased post... only from a couple hundred annual "justified shootings" perspective. Totally ignoring the thousands murdered by handguns each year (majority committed by blacks not whites with majority victims black not white). And laughably using Australia as a bench mark when Switzerland has more guns per 100,000 people than any country and their gun violence is almost non existent. But please keep ignoring facts while your bias frames an intellectually dishonest argument.

    1. ...mindful blacks are 12% of the population and responsible of over half the murders (will you be advocating banning blacks to reduce the gun violence next)?

    2. From the arguments made by the politician's, their rationale is something along the same vein. Their solutions won't do a thing except make them feel safer from their constituents a little longer.

  9. In case no one noticed, take a look at the Violence Policy Center's website. It is clearly a gun control advocacy group. Inasmuch as we all know statistics can be skewed, I'd feel much more comfortable with an analysis performed by a neutral or disinterested 3rd party.

  10. Statistics are irrelevant. If a person chooses to own a firearm for protection he/she should be allowed. It is called freedom.

  11. Wow! It fails to mention how many times guns actually stop a crime or save a life. Estimates have that around 2.5 million a year. Clinton said it is about 1.5 million times a year. The simple fact is it does. I always like the "why do you need an AR-15"? Well why do you need a Mercedes? Simple answer is I choose to. No where in our Constitution does it say specifically you can own a car, horse, or wagon. Cars kill more in one week than guns kill all year! The Constitution does specify we have a right to bear arms though. A report was just released by the Bureau of Justice Statistic, an arm of the D.O.J. that states that gun crime has actually DROPPED and continues to drop. Every media outlet in the country states gun sales as well as gun ownership has skyrocketed since 2008. So if more guns is more crime, why is it dropping? So much for that theory. A PEW survey showed fifty six of those questioned insisted it had risen. However that isn't the biggie. Less than one percent (.8) of prisoners stated they purchased a gun at a gun show. Since the venue really doesn't matter, an FFL is obliged by law to run an NICS check. Why would any one with common sense, even just a little, sell a gun to someone he didn't know with the knowledge that if he kills someone, that gun will be traced to him? You see, when you purchase a gun, the dealer has to maintain that record. It isn't that hard to trace a gun used in a crime. As for the assault weapons ban/law in affect from 1994-2004, it did a lot of good. Everyone seems to forget Columbine took place near the end of that law, basically when it should have been it's strongest. Guess that one didn't work to well. So why is the administration going after "assault weapons" if we already tried it and it did not work. Then again, less than two percent of gun crime a rifle is used. Even when assault weapons were outlawed, that is similar to what they were trying to pass, it certainly did not stop Columbine. It just goes to show the ignorance of those who think guns are responsible for the crimes. How stupid can they be?

  12. Gun ownership in America is protected under the Constitution. Gun ownership is a right under the second amendment. People in America who are willing to give up rights that are being taken away by an oppressive federal government are stupid. It does not matter what the reason is why a person owns a gun. Whether it is for sport, hunting, self protection, gun-collecting, or gathering dust in the top of a closet, the Government has no business trying to take away Constitutional rights. And citizens should be alarmed when they try. This whole article is stupid. If people are being killed by having their heads bashed in with a baseball bat and the Government was trying to outlaw baseball bats, imagine this article trying to say bats should be outlawed because in the game of baseball, the number of homeruns hit using a bat is very low based on the number of times a bat is swung. Successful instances of self defense using a gun is a stupid reason to base a decision whether or not to give up a Constitutional right. In fact, there is no good reason why one would ever give up a Constitutional right. And I think people who are willing to give up rights are plain stupid.

  13. Self defense is more than going to a martial arts class to fight or a firing range to fire a gun. Self defence starts with learning about Tactical Thinking, the art of gathering information about your environment and your enemy. It is only with this information that you can anticipate threats before they eventuate and take proactive action to stop the threat – instead of reactive action. Read the article for the methods you can use to think tactically and improve your security and personal safety.