A new study is being paraded around by pro-gun control leftists that says that guns are nearly six times more likely to be used for criminal purposes than defense. Problem is, the study is bogus.
The Washington Post‘s Christopher Ingraham breathlessly writes about the findings from a Harvard University analysis conducted by Harvard Injury Control Research Center director David Hemenway and co-author Sara Solnick in which they examined National Crime Victimization Survey data of 160,000 people from 2007-2011. According to Ingraham:
Hemenway found that not only are self-defense gun uses rare — people defended themselves with a gun in roughly 0.9 percent of crimes committed over this period — but in many cases they don’t lead to better outcomes for crime victims.
“The likelihood of injury when there was a self-defense gun use (10.9%) was basically identical to the likelihood of injury when the victim took no action at all (11.0%),” Hemenway and co-author Sara J. Solnik found.
Looking at what happened after people took action to prevent a crime, Hemenway and Solnik found that people were far better off either running away, or calling the cops if possible, rather than attempting to stop a crime with a gun. “Running away and calling the police were associated with a reduced likelihood of injury after taking action; self-defense gun use was not,” they write.
However, victims had better results when using guns to defend themselves from burglaries and robberies, as those who didn’t fight back at all lost their property 85 percent, but only lost their property 39 percent of the time when they fought back with a firearm, and 35 percent of the time with another weapon.
Hemenway’s method of determining defensive guns uses compared to criminal uses is completely wrong:
@BruceWolfChi No, just counting incidents in a survey not designed to measure self defense. Same guy has been doing it for decades.
— Robert VerBruggen (@RAVerBruggen) June 14, 2016
As Crime Research Prevention Center president John Lott once pointed out, the NCVS only asks if people have been victims of a violent crime, as opposed to other surveys that asks victims if they’ve been threatened with a violent crime.
It’s this key distinction that Florida State criminology professor Gary Kleck found in his 1993 study with his colleague Marc Gertz that there could be as many as 760,000 to 2.5 million defensive gun uses a year. As Kleck explained in a 2015 Politico piece:
In order for a survey respondent to report a typical DGU, she or he must be willing to report all three of the following elements of the event: (1) a crime victimization experience, (2) his or her possession of a gun, and (3) his or her own commission of a crime. The last element is relevant because most DGUs occur away from the user’s home, and only about 1 percent of the population in 1993, when we conducted our survey, had a permit that allowed them to legally carry a gun through public spaces. Thus, although survey-reported defensive gun uses themselves rarely involve criminal behavior (that is, the defender did not use the gun to commit a criminal assault or other offense), most (at least back in 1993) involved unlawful possession of a gun in a public place by the defender.
So what does research on the flaws in surveys of crime-related behaviors tell us? It consistently indicates that survey respondents underreport (1) crime victimization experiences, (2) gun ownership and (3) their own illegal behavior. While it is true that a few respondents overstate their crime-related experiences, they are greatly outnumbered by those who understate them, i.e. those who falsely deny having the experience when in fact they did. In sum, research tells us that surveys underestimate the frequency of crime victimizations, gun possession and self-reported illegal behavior.
Ingraham briefly touched on Kleck’s research in his piece, but dismissed it by writing, “In order for the estimate of 2.5 million defensive gun uses to be correct, we would have to assume that self-defense accounts for literally every single gunshot victim in the United States, as well as a massive number of invisible gunshot victims completely unknown to medical or legal authorities. That simply isn’t plausible.”
This is what most of Kleck’s critics argue, and it’s sloppy and lazy criticism since Kleck’s research actually shows that most defensive gun uses don’t involve firing the gun. In a 1993 interview with the Orange County Register, Kleck explained: (emphasis bolded)
Fifty-four percent of the defensive gun uses involved somebody verbally referring to the gun. Forty-seven percent involved the gun being pointed at the criminal. Twenty-two percent involved the gun being fired. Fourteen percent involved the gun being fired at somebody, meaning it wasn’t just a warning shot; the defender was trying to shoot the criminal. Whether they succeeded or not is another matter but they were trying to shoot a criminal. And then in 8 percent they actually did wound or kill the offender.
Therefore, it is perfectly consistent with Kleck’s research that there wouldn’t be as many as 2.5 million gunshot victims to correspond with defensive gun uses.
Another criticism of Kleck’s findings come from research analyst Evan DeFilippis and investment advisor Devin Hughes:
According to his own survey more than 50 percent of respondents claim to have reported their defensive gun use to the police. This means we should find at least half of his 2.5 million annual Defensive Gun Uses (DGUs) in police reports alone. Instead, the most comprehensive nonpartisan effort to catalog police and media reports on DGUs by The Gun Violence Archive was barely able to find 1,600 in 2014. Where are the remaining 99.94 percent of Kleck’s supposed DGUs hiding?
But as Kleck and Gertz wrote in the Journal of Law and Criminology,
Many of these incidents never come to the attention of the police, while others may be reported but without victims mentioning their use of a gun. And even when a DGU [defensive gun use] is reported, it will not necessarily be recorded by the police, who ordinarily do not keep statistics on matters other than DGUs resulting in a death, since police record-keeping is largely confined to information helpful in apprehending perpetrators and making a legal case for convicting them. Because such statistics are not kept, we cannot even be certain that a large number of DGUs are not reported to the police.
In other words, it’s not surprising that DeFilippis and Hughes only found 1,600 police report examples.
Further data from the CDC proves Kleck correct and Hemenway wrong, as researchers from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council published findings through the CDC that the number of defensive gun uses in 2013 ranged from 500,000 to over 3 million. The CDC also “found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies.”
Even when taking the low-end of the CDC’s and Kleck’s respective research, there are clearly more defensive gun uses than criminal gun uses. As Breitbart’s AWR Hawkins points out, data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that there were 11,208 firearm homicides in 2013, and data from the National Justice Institute show that there were 414,562 incidents of criminal firearm use that didn’t result in any deaths. Both figures combined don’t come close to Kleck’s low-end estimate of 760,000 defensive gun uses. They do come close to the CDC’s 500,000 figure, but still is not greater than that amount.
The actual data reveals that there are nowhere near six times as many criminal gun uses than defensive gun uses. Hemenway’s study is completely off, and Ingraham should have conducted more thorough research on Hemenway’s and Kleck’s studies.