There’s a certain number that gun fanatics just love. Well, actually there are several numbers they love, but there’s one in particular that they lustfully salivate over: 2.5 million. That’s the putative number of defensive gun uses (DGUs) that occur in the United States every single year. That’s a highly impressive “statistic”, which is why you’ll see it starring on bumper stickers or websites or wherever else people want to emphasize the need for firearms in order to feel safe from all the THEMs out there.
Except the “statistic” is not really a statistic. It’s a projection, an estimate, put forth in a “study” by Florida criminologist Dr. Gary Kleck (in collaboration with Professor Marc Gertz), based on interviews of alleged defenders in 1993. Except the “study” wasn’t really a study; it was a survey, which is a sort of glorified poll.
Whatever terminology you choose to use, the point is that the Kleck “study”, which involved 222 respondents, didn’t really estimate how many DGU’s actually occur; it estimated how often gun owners say they occur. That’s a different thing, but just how different is it? Well, let’s see how it stacks up against the real world.
Dr. Kleck, Meet Mr. Gallup
According to Gallup (a poll, not a study, but generally rather reliable) 30 percent of American adults own guns. With a U.S. population of 313 million, roughly 75 percent of whom (about 230 million) are adults, that translates to about 70 million gun owners. The gun culture estimates its own strength at 80 million, so let’s assume they’re right, and Gallup not so much so. That would mean that one out of 32 gun owners is involved in a DGU every year. Seriously? Even if we factor in the additional 12 percent who, according to Gallup, live in a household in which someone owns a gun, that means 99 million who have access to one. And that would still mean that one out of 40 of them is involved in a DGU every year. If that sounds like a reasonable ratio to you, let’s draw a tighter bead on it.
Washington, DC has a population of about 600,000. That means it should have about 450,000 adults and about 189,000 with access to a gun. According to the Kleck ratio, we would expect that Washington would experience 4725 DGUs annually. (Actually much more, since DC is one of the most dangerous cities in the nation -and for several years in the recent past was the most dangerous.) That means almost 13 per day. Seriously? Let’s return to DC later.
Dr. Kleck can get away with such extravagant claims because we don’t have real comprehensive statistics as such on defensive gun use. But we do have accounts of them reported in the media, along with phony accounts reported in emails. And even the real ones and the fake ones together do not number in the millions.
In challenging my observation that many of the anecdotes are bogus, a writer at The Truth About Guns whipped out a list of “75 real ones, just from the last 4 months”. Except that many of these “real” ones were, um, not so real. He didn’t say where he came up with this collection, but everybody who produces such a list produces essentially the same list, a roster of news headlines apparently meant to confirm the 2.5 million tally. If so, it indicates that maybe gunsters aren’t quite as proficient at counting people as they are at killing them.
Because 75 in 4 months does not quite add up to 2.5 million. It adds up to 225. And at that rate, you would have – quite literally – a substantially greater risk of being struck by lightning. So, since the NRA has only your best interests at heart (wink wink nudge nudge) why isn’t it promoting handy dandy designer rubber suits to go along with those portable miniature lightning rods it pushes?
Even on the busiest day, there are rarely more than 2 or 3 DGUs in the news; and in order to meet the quota of 2.5 million annually, you would need to have 6849 daily, more than 2 per day in each of the nation’s counties.
Okay, okay. I can hear the screaming from the gunster gallery, so we might as well acknowledge what they’re saying:
‘YOU IDIOT! NOT ALL DEFENSIVE GUN INCIDENTS APPEAR IN THE MEDIA!!!”
Well okay, I guess it wouldn’t greatly surprise me if that’s true. But it would greatly surprise me indeed if the number of non-covereds greatly exceeded the number of covereds – especially to the extent Dr. Kleck maintains. If an incident is truly serious enough to warrant pulling out a weapon, it’s generally serious enough to warrant notifying the police. And what makes it into the police blotter is generally fair game for the media.
There are exceptions, of course – some defenders have good reason to keep their actions under their sombreros. But even among Dr. Kleck’s subjects, 64 percent said the police learned of the episode either from them or someone else. My calculator says that 64 percent of 2.5 million totals 1,600,000 police reports and 1,600,000 potential media stories. So where are the other 1,599, 775?
Okay, they’re screaming again. Let’s see what they’re saying this time.
“YOU MORON! ALL THE MEDIA EXCEPT FAIRANDBALANCED FOX ARE OWNED BY A BUNCH OF LIBERAL COMMIES WHO SUPPRESS DGU STORIES BECAUSE THEY HATE FREEDOM AND WANT THE TERRORISTS TO WIN!!!”
Well, let’s say that we buy into the “liberal bias in the media” canard. It will require a tremendous effort to say it with a straight face, since the myth is so easily discredited, but we’ll give it our best shot. Say that the media suppress 90 percent of DGU stories – no, hell, let’s let our persecution complex really run wild, and say 99 percent. Still, one percent of 1,600,000 is 16,000. So where are the other 15,775? (And if you think the media suppress even more than 99 percent – well, I’m very sorry, but I just can’t take you seriously at all.)
The truth is that if you ask someone who’s actually worked in the media (like, er, um…well, yours truly, maybe) they’re likely to tell you that the media love this kind of story. They have a lot of column space and airtime to fill, and they’re savvy enough to know that the public would much rather hear about a sensational crime than a church bake sale. And lacking a sensational crime, the public will settle for a sensational crime prevention, thank you very much. Some editors would just about break into someone’s house themselves to get this kind of story.
The Great Equalizer
Yet it’s fine if you choose not to believe this. Thing is, the gunsters who invoke the specter of the librulmedia to explain the phantom DGUs are overlooking something. A little thing called the Internet – even though most likely they’re using it to state their case. While referring to guns as “equalizers”, they overlook the greatest equalizer ever : ye olde world wide web. Thanks to millions of websites and blogs, thanks to email and Facebook and YouTube and Reddit and Twitter and so on, we no longer have to rely on the sinister librulmedia to give us The Truth About Guns.
One website that regularly circulates the latest version of The List is keepandbeararms.com. And hoo boy, if you want to stoke your paranoia and justify your gun addiction, you’ve come to the right place. There are ample links to stories abut the big bad guvmint wanting to take away your so-called Second Amendment rights, and about the incompetence of law enforcement personnel – we all know that they’re not nearly as skilled and responsible at using firearms as we are. And of course stories about defensive gun use. In fact – get this – this website even recruits a team of volunteers to scrape up these stories and send them in. Even so, they can’t come up with more than a few hundred per year (even assuming they’re all genuine) – while there seems to be a higher incidence lately, the archives indicate that 75 in 4 months is more or less typical. And guess what? From what I can tell, every one of these incidents was reported in the nefarious librulmedia.
Or take the NRA. Please. Since 1958, this humanitarian organization has maintained (first in print and now online as well) a feature called Armed Citizen, which also collects these stories. And it doesn’t just rely on the commie librulmedia; its 4 million-plus members are all invited to submit items to be listed. There is an archive of “thousands” of these in the past 53 years (only thousands??) and the NRA assures us that there could be many more, editorial space permitting, because there are millions of DGUs to pick from every year. And how do they know this? Why, that famous “study”, of course.
One only hopes that the good folk at NRA are more competent handling weapons than they are handling editorial space. Armed Citizen easily could accommodate one DGU per day, 365 per year. And how many did it print last year? Barely more than 100. And guess what? It appears that every one of them was reported in the terrorist-coddling librulmedia. Can I order my rubber suit now? Surely they must come in red, white and blue.
NRA headquarters sits across the river from the nation’s capital. Because of this proximity, and because the NRA is so intensively involved in influencing government policy (to put it mildly), its personnel no doubt have spent a great deal of time in DC and crossed paths with its criminal elements – and we’re not referring to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Therefore, they should have had plenty of opportunity to bag their very own share of those 4725-plus annual DGUs. If nothing else, they surely have heard about many of them through the grapevine, even those that were buried by the scumsucking librulmedia.
And how many did they list for Washington in 2011? A grand total of zero. In fact, the last one I found was more than SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO! This excludes a 2004 story in The Washington Times about a hiker shooting a bear. No, no, not on the National Mall. In Alaska. Yep, the straight-shootin’ NRA feels that if it appeared in a Washington newspaper, that makes it a genuine DC DGU – even though it also was listed under Alaska’s database. Which really makes you wonder how many of their other untold “thousands” are also duplicates – especially since, contrary to what the gun culture clams, these episodes are usually covered by a number of media sources.
Armed Citizen recently has been revamped. Before that, the search options were more user-friendly, and I counted 24 DGUs in the former Murder Capital of America for the 53 year period, falling a tad shy of our expected total of 250,425. But those 24 include the ursine encounter in Alaska; and I didn’t confirm the legitimacy of the other 23.
Studying the Studies
Unless you’re really heavily immersed in a gun propaganda website, I probably don’t have to tell you that there is a wee bit of difference between 2.5 million and 2.5 hundred. The question is, which is closer to the truth? No, strike that. The question is, how could a reputable researcher like Dr. Kleck, even given his apparent propensity for gun worship, have fucked up so royally?
I don’t claim to have a solid answer for that. I don’t believe he deliberately cooked the books, and even if he did, it hardly would cover the bases. There have been at least a dozen other “studies”, one by the Department of Justice, that also generated some preposterous projections. Granted, there was quite a range in the totals, with the lowest being 65,000. That, contrasted with the high of 2.5 million, is a point spread of 4000 percent, for crying out loud; and that, if nothing else, ought to raise a matador-size red flag about the challenges of obtaining accurate data on such a subject. But even 65,000 seems greatly overinflated.
So it appears that Dr. Kleck is not to blame. Instead, the probable explanation is that the respondents to such surveys tend to give consistently and wildly distorted responses. Why? Well, that might take an actual study or two to figure out. Prof. David Hemenway of Harvard has made some illuminating comments, which of course have been attacked ferociously by the gun lobby. He notes by way of comparison that among 1500 adults contacted at random, 10 percent claimed to have witnessed a UFO, and of those, 6 percent claimed to have had personal contact with space aliens. Which would mean that 1,380,000 American adults have encountered Klingons. And hey, 579,600 of those may have been hauling a heater. Hmmm… maybe so many DGUs are missing because they occur on the far side of the chronosynclastic infundibulum.
A 2004 investigation – one actually might call it a study – by J. F. Denton and Dr. W. V. Fabricius that examined shooting incidents over a period of 3.5 months in the Phoenix metropolitan area confirmed that of 81 shootings, only 3 were of a defensive nature; two occurred in a single encounter with two security guards firing at the same offender, and the third involved a family quarrel. The Kleck data would have projected 334 defensive shootings for the time frame and location. Denton and Fabricius illustrate the drawbacks of the Kleck survey by discussing another clash involving a drunken quarrel between two acquaintances, one of whom shot the other to death, which was ruled to be criminal homicide, but which Dr. Kleck would have misclassified as a DGU. Undoubtedly, there have been many cases that were misclassified.
Indeed, a close inspection of the Kleck data reveals some major thorns. As we mentioned, at least 36 percent of respondents stated they didn’t even notify police. Which makes you wonder whether the incidents really were serious enough to justify calling in the infantry. Furthermore, 46.8 percent admitted (the actual percentage could be higher) that the supposed offender neither attacked nor made a threat. So what made the hardware necessary? In more than half of the cases, the supposed defender admitted (the actual percentage may be higher) that the supposed offender had no weapon of any kind. And since 57.6 percent of defenders say they verbally referred to their guns and 75.7 percent brandished or showed their guns, that seems to indicate that about 25 percent only referred to them verbally. And this counts as a defensive gun use? I could do the same thing, but since I don’t even own a gun, the weapon du jour would be bullshit, not a Glock.
In 8.3 percent of the cases, the subject claimed to have wounded or killed the offender. There is no breakdown of what percentage was killed, but let’s conservatively guess one percent. Most likely, the true percentage is much higher, especially given that there seem to be a great many gun incidents that are falsely classified as DGUs; and a higher percentage of fatal shootings means a lower number of DGUs. But even one percent of 2.5 million would be 25,000; and we should be able to verify this because gun deaths are a matter of official record. Oops. According to the FBI, there were only 232 justifiable homicides by firearm in all of 2010 – and this was an increase over recent years. No matter how you slice it, something in Kleck has to go.
Perhaps most interestingly, the subjects claimed to have experienced an average of about 1.5 DGUs each for a 5-year period; in other words, many of them said they were involved in multiple incidents. Talk about red flags. This supposedly random sampling that supposedly represents the typical American gun owner nonetheless seems to be comprised largely of people who live in the world’s worst neighborhoods. In contrast, this group of gun owners, in response to a query about how often they’ve drawn their weapons (which doesn’t necessarily mean a DGU) typically say once or twice in 15 years or 25 or 30 years; some even say “never”, although such an individual is probably not as likely to respond to this question at all.
Defensive or Offensive
All told, these facts shoot a big gaping hole in one of the gun culture’s prime tenets: that guns are used in self-defense more often they are used to commit crimes – some even claim ten times as often or more! In the Phoenix sample, however, the score was 78 to 3 in favor of the Offense. Granted, these were actual shootings and most defenders don’t open fire – but neither do most offenders. While there are only a few hundred confirmed DGUs per year, there are at least 400,000 gun crimes per year. Among those committed or attempted, there is a 100 percent chance that the offender has a gun, but only a 42 percent chance that the victim even has access to a gun, much less is armed at the moment and able to use it successfully. Of course, there are many other crimes in which the criminal is not packing; but they are less likely to warrant firearm defense. In many of them, the victim is not even aware of the crime, and indeed may not even be present. But none of this will stop the gun lobby from peddling the illusion that guns make us safer.
At least one blogger out there is making an effort to chronicle the destructive use of firearms, both intentional and accidental – there are thousands of accidental gun deaths and injuries every year, but I’ve yet to hear of a gun accidentally preventing a death or injury. He seems to be waging a war of anecdotes with the gunsters, but it’s not much of a war. Despite their persistent claims of vastly superior firepower, he’s been blowing their asses out of the water.
Not that I expect it to make a great deal of difference. People will believe what that want to believe, and for the gun culture it’s important to believe that lead is more vital than oxygen. For all their rant and cant about “defending liberty”, many gunsters are quite willing to enslave themselves to the unscrupulous marketing machinations of the firearms cartel. And every time a trigger clicks, a cash register ka-chings.