Setting the Record Straight

June 27, 2008

The Guns for Self-Defense Myth

Filed under: news,policy,politics — straightrecord @ 10:47 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Good Luck On That

News item: Man stabs to death at least five officers inside Shanghai police station. Chinese police are well-armed. If they were unable to defend themselves with their handguns, what chance does anyone else have.  

         Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia rests much of the 5-4 majority opinion of the court in D.C. v Heller on the alleged right of one’s self-defense. Supposedly, if one has a gun, one can protect oneself against attackers, intruders and all sorts of evil-doers.
          A check of blogs and pro-gun Web sites leading up to and including the court’s decision showed this is not an issue for the weak at heart.
         Our take on the D.C. v Heller gun-control issue before the court attracted the ire of so many gun nuts, we were drawn into reading their comments and blogs and checking out their Web sites.
          We were struck by two factors–how borderline illiterate so many of the gun-nut bloggers are (not just on this issue, but others as well) and how many expressed macho boasts, such as “you’ll have to pry my gun from my dead, cold hands,” aping the John Wayne-type boast of the late National Rifle Association figurehead, Charlton Heston.
         If anyone were ever in favor of gun control, knowing such people are out there with guns in their hands is justification enough.
          But since our mantra is to be informed, we checked out to the best we could what is known about the success of gun possession in fending off various criminals.
          The evidence is sparse, and what there is of that is old, but it puts the lie to the claim that personal possession of a gun is an effective defense.
          Although one would presume that a person who uses a gun successfully to repel an intruder or an attacker would then report the incident to the police, if for no other reason than to seek to put the perpetrator in jail.
          A cursory search turned up no research, not even U.S. Justice Department tracts based on voluminous federal, state and local crime reports, that compares the claims of self-defense with police reports of such claims.
          What we are left with is old research, much of it based on telephone interviews in which respondents merely state their experience, with no followup or comparison with other records to determine if the claims fit a pattern.
          The most credible of that research (federal studies of statistics and peer-reviewed journal work) suggest there is no self-defense value to keeping a gun at home.
          The best comparison was reported back in 1986 by the New England Journal of Medicine, which compared police information with stated claims in one Washington county. Of 743 firearm-related deaths over a six-year period (70.5 percent involved handguns), 398 occurred in the home where the firearm was kept, but only seven people were killed in self-defense, and only two of those killed were shot during attempted entry. Nine were accidental (the gun-owner or someone else in the home was the victim). Researchers concluded a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to kill someone other than an intruder, i.e., a member of the household or friends.
         Indeed, there have been incidents where a gun has been used successfully in self-defense, but those cases are rare, and most of those involved a perpetrator who was not armed.
         Justice Department surveys from the mid-1990s show that just over a third of American households contain a gun, but three-quarters of those claim they have one for self-protection.
          Another chant of gun nuts is that if guns are taken away from them, only criminals will have guns. Federal statistics show that 340,000 crimes each year involve the theft of firearms, two-thirds of them during household burglaries. It appears it is legitimate gun owners who are supplying the criminals with guns.





  1. So the best defense is to be defenseless? Sorry, but that just doesn’t make sense to me.

    The Supreme Court simply decided that the second amendment says what it says. You have only to look at the Federalist Papers to see how the framers viewed the individual right to keep and bear arms. The original intent was that the federal government could not disarm honest citizens. For the Supreme Court it should have been a no brainer. However, if the 2nd Amendment really is now obsolete, then use the legitimate constitution process to repeal it. I don’t believe that it is obsolete.

    The “43 times more likely…” claim was the Arthur Kellermann study. A Google Search will get you detailed information on the problem with that study. Kellermann only counted cases where a criminal was killed by the victim as a defensive or protective use of firearms. If the criminal ran away upon discovering that the potential victim was not defenseless, that wasn’t counted as a defensive use of a firearm. It is estimated that the actual killing of the criminal represents only about 1% of defensive use. I have had only one instance where I was attacked in a parking lot. When the criminal saw that I was armed, he made a hasty departure. I didn’t bother to call the police. I was safe and he was gone. The odds of the police catching him were slim. And even if they did, he was unlikely to be taken off the streets.

    Kellermann did another study. In that, he sampled only homes where homicides have taken place. Obviously that was not a representative sample. How many of the folks reading this have had homicides in their home?

    Gary Kleck has probably done the best and most objective research on the subject. His estimate is that there are as many as 2.5 million times annually when citizens are used for protection. Most of the time the criminal isn’t killed. Occasionally the criminal is killed which is fine with me.

    If you truly believe that being defenseless is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones, you have every right to remain defenseless. But please don’t use creative statistics to try to make the case that I should be defenseless too.

    Comment by C. Bruce Richardson Jr. — June 28, 2008 @ 7:25 am | Reply

  2. defenseless is your word, not mine.
    the point of the item is that the idea of keeping a gun for one’s self-defense is a specious endeavor. thus, a person with a gun in the house is just as defenseless as one who does not. the one without the gun in the house is not going to be a victim of the accidents emergency rooms and morgues all over the country see and he is not going to be part of a major source for illegal guns through burglaries and other types of robberies. so yes, statistically, you’re better off without a gun in the house and therefore, scalia’s argument for guns as a tool of self-defense is baseless.
    the university of florida study referred to in the item is the kleck study you guys love, but which had to be adjusted in the justice department survey work to eliminate some of its over-reaching flaws (such as claiming 2.5 million when the real number worked out to be 1.5 million, and even that number wasn’t sorted efficiently to answer the question).
    what we really need is a study that checks the claims of guns used in self-defense against police records around the country. a person who really does use a gun in self-defense would have to be some kind of fool for not reporting the incident to the police. or a liar.
    i have not seen the statistics to back it up, but there is a reason otherwise gun-loving and violence-prone cops are opposed to people having handguns.

    Comment by straightrecord — June 28, 2008 @ 10:11 am | Reply

  3. Hello, thanks for commeting. It is an interesting issue.

    You are correct. Defenseless is my word. In my world and the world of Encarta, defenseless means lacking any form of protection and therefore being vulnerable. I choose not to be defenseless. If being unarmed works for you, that’s fine with me. I certainly respect your right to make that choice for yourself. But I think that you should respect my right to choose otherwise.

    Actually all Scalia should have been concerned with was the intended meaning of the second amendment when it was drafted. It was intended to be an individual right. Supposing that the second amendment was intended to allow a state select militia to be armed would be ridiculous–it was in the Bill of Rights. There are other parts of the Constitution that deal directly with the select militia.

    I am neither a fool nor a liar. And I don’t feel the need to make personal remarks when debating an issue. As for reporting, I took care of it. He took off as soon as he saw that I had a weapon. I didn’t feel the need to invest the time in reporting it. There wouldn’t have been much point anyway. Maybe we have a different attitude about such things in Texas. We probably tend to be more self-sufficient than a lot of folks.

    We can disagree about Kleck’s study. That’s fine. I would urge folks to Google Gary Kleck and judge for themselves. Anyone who wants to Google the Kellermann Study and the “43 times” claim can see how the study was crafted to produce a particular result.

    As I mentioned, I am in Texas. Things might be different where you are of course. Most police officers that I know are not “gun-loving and violence-prone.” My next door neighbor is a police officer. None of the folks that I know who have carry permits aren’t violence prone either.

    In Texas, we did have some public officials and some high ranking police officials that initially opposed licensing folks to carry concealed weapons. Most officers on the street that I talked to at the time didn’t. They realize that being armed is not what turns an honest citizen into a criminal. And laws will not keep a criminal from getting a firearm any more than laws keep people from getting illegal drugs.

    As it turned out, the folks who are licensed have turned out to be very responsible. They commit crimes at a rate that is considerably less than that of the average citizen. We don’t see much opposition to concealed carry in Texas these days except from anti-gun groups.

    During the last legislative session, folks without carry permits were permitted to carry a handgun in their vehicle. It the past, they could carry handguns on or about their persons only while traveling. Of course, as a practical matter, lots of folks were already carrying a handgun in their car anyway if they felt the need. Last year we had the castle doctrine bill passed. There never has been much restriction on the ownership of firearms except by convicted criminals. I don’t think that Texas has any more violent crime than states with more severe restrictions on firearms.

    Comment by C. Bruce Richardson Jr. — June 28, 2008 @ 2:10 pm | Reply

  4. Your opinion on gun ownership is no more valid than mine. We simply disagree and apparently the United States Supreme Court agrees more with me than you.

    Comment by pobept — June 29, 2008 @ 6:11 am | Reply

  5. News item: Man stabs to death at least five officers inside Shanghai police station. Chinese police are well-armed. If they were unable to defend themselves with their handguns, what chance does anyone else have.

    Comment by straightrecord — July 1, 2008 @ 6:12 pm | Reply

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