Degrading Scientific Standards to Get the Defensive Gun Use Estimate Down

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Degrading Scientific Standards to Get the Defensive Gun Use Estimate Down

Category: Defensive Gun Use|Journal: Journal on Firearms and Public Policy (full text)|Author: G Kleck|Year: 1999

It has now been confirmed by at least 16 surveys, including the 1993 National Self-Defense Survey (NSDS) of Kleck and Gertz (1995), 12 other national surveys, and 3 state-wide surveys, that defensive use of firearms by crime victims is common in the United States, probably substantially more common than criminal uses of guns by offenders. The estimates of the annual number of defensive uses of guns in the United States range from 760,000 to 3.6 million, with the best estimate, derived from the NSDS, being 2.5 million, compared to about a half a million incidents in which offenders used guns to commit a crime (Kleck 1997, pp. 149-160, 187-189; see also the more recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of Ikeda, Dahlberg, Sacks, Mercy, and Powell 1997, which estimated 1.0 million defensive gun uses linked with burglaries in which the intruder was seen, compared to 0.9 million such incidents derived from the Kleck-Gertz survey, 1995, pp. 184-185, estimates within sampling error of each other).

It has also been consistently and repeatedly confirmed that defensive gun use (DGU) is effective: crime victims who use guns for self-protection are less likely to be injured or lose property than otherwise similar victims in otherwise similar crime situations who either do not resist at all or who use other self-protection strategies (the body of evidence is reviewed in Kleck 1997, pp. 170-175). In recent years, it has become increasingly rare that critics dispute the claim that DGU is effective.

Instead, pro-control critics have focused their efforts on their claim that, despite the enormous body of evidence indicating otherwise, DGU is actually rare. Thus, they argue, it is of little consequence for gun control policy that DGU is effective, since it is so infrequent. The critics’ discussion of the topic of the frequency of DGU is strident, polemical, and extreme. For example, Philip Cook and his colleagues baldly describe large estimates of DGU frequency as a “mythical number” (1997, p. 463). Likewise, an article by David Hemenway (1997a) was brazenly titled “The Myth of Millions of Annual Self-Defense Gun Uses.” In another article by Hemenway (1997b), his title implicitly took it as given that DGUs are rare, and that surveys indicating the opposite grossly overstate DGU frequency. For Hemenway, the only scholarly task that remained was to explain why surveys did this: “Survey Research and Self-Defense Gun Use: An Explanation of Extreme Overestimation.” Finally, McDowall and Wiersema (1994), although well aware of the large number of surveys yielding large DGU estimates, nevertheless flatly concluded, in extremely strong terms, that “armed self-defense is extremely rare” (p. 1884). This conclusion was based entirely on a single survey, the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which did not even directly ask respondents about defensive gun use.

These critics do not mainly support the low-DGU thesis by affirmatively presenting relevant empirical evidence indicating few DGUs. The only empirical evidence affirmatively cited in support of the low-DGU thesis is the uniquely low estimates derived from the NCVS. The critics appear in no way embarrassed by the fact that the only national estimate they can cite in support of their theory is a survey that does not even ask respondents the key question––whether they have used a gun for self-protection. Instead, the critics get around the large volume of contrary survey evidence by pronouncing all of it invalid and insisting that all surveys (excepting the NCVS?) grossly overstate the frequency of DGU.

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