Newest Research Shows Guns More Commonly Used for Self-Defense than Crimes
Recent research offers compelling evidence that firearms are employed more frequently for self-defense purposes than in the commission of crimes.
In 2019, the National Crime Victimization Survey reported approximately 480,000 criminal gun uses. While this number might appear significant, a comprehensive examination of existing research consistently reveals that annual defensive gun uses far surpass criminal incidents.
A 2013 review conducted by the National Research Council, analyzing nineteen surveys on defensive gun use frequency, found a consistent pattern. Nearly all estimates pointed to defensive gun uses being at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with the annual range of such incidents spanning from 500,000 to over 3 million. The most reliable survey, at the time, pinpointed a minimum of 2.1 million defensive gun uses annually.
Reinforcing this scholarly consensus, two recent studies have further substantiated the prevalence of defensive gun uses. One study estimated approximately 1.67 million defensive gun uses each year.
The 2021 National Firearms Survey, led by William English of Georgetown University, gathered data from over 54,000 Americans, including 16,000 gun owners. This survey used five rigorous methods to ensure the accuracy of responses and boasted the largest sample size in defensive gun use research.
Mr. English’s findings emphasized that civilian firearm owners employ guns defensively in about 1.67 million incidents annually. Handguns were the most commonly used firearm for self-defense (65.9% of cases), and in the majority of these incidents (81.9%), no shots were fired. Furthermore, more than half of defensive gun uses occurred in situations involving two or more assailants, highlighting the role of firearms as equalizers.
Key findings from Mr. English’s survey included:
A second study, conducted by Gary Kleck and published in the American Journal of Criminal Justice, analyzed three CDC surveys from 1996, 1997, and 1998. These surveys collected information on defensive gun uses but were never published by the CDC. Mr. Kleck examined the raw data and found that these surveys yielded estimates of defensive gun uses significantly exceeding criminal uses, averaging 1,109,825 per year.
The reasons behind the CDC’s non-publication of these findings remain speculative. However, it is plausible that these results conflicted with the Clinton administration’s goals, which aimed to advocate for stricter gun control measures. Such findings, indicating that guns were used more for self-defense than crime, would have posed a challenge to this agenda.
Mr. Kleck’s research also extended to the domain of suicide. He found that gun ownership does not affect the overall number of suicides, though it does influence the methods chosen for suicide. This implies that while gun availability may influence how people choose to end their lives, it does not impact the overall suicide rate.
Advocates of gun control often argue that defensive gun uses are infrequent, relying on the NCVS estimates of around 70,000 to 100,000 annual defensive gun uses. These figures, however, diverge from the overwhelming consensus of more than 20 surveys explicitly designed to assess the frequency of defensive gun use.
The primary issue with the NCVS estimates is that they never directly ask respondents about defensive gun uses. Instead, respondents can volunteer this information when reporting being victims of a crime. Consequently, the NCVS is viewed with skepticism as a reliable measure of defensive gun use. All other survey research specifically crafted to gauge the frequency of defensive gun uses consistently indicates that such incidents are far more common than criminal gun uses.
The latest research, particularly the revealing CDC survey results, underscores the prevalence of defensive gun uses, even from a source traditionally seen as being skeptical of firearms.
While this research provides substantial reasons to question gun control measures, it is crucial to remember that the right to own a firearm does not hinge on a cost-benefit analysis. Rather, rights exist to safeguard against competing interests, especially when they involve the rights of a minority against the majority. The fundamental right to own a gun isn’t determined by the number of defensive gun uses, but the frequency of such uses significantly bolsters the case for gun ownership.