Statistics on the Dangers of Gun Use for Self-Defense

Posted on May 11, 2015

Claims that guns are used defensively millions times every year have been widely discredited.  Using a gun in self-defense is no more likely to reduce the chance of being injured during a crime than various other forms of protective action.1 In fact, one study suggests that carrying a firearm may actually increase a victim’s risk of firearm injury during the commission of a crime.  ((Charles C. Branas, Therese S. Richmond, Dennis P. Culhane, Thomas R. Ten Have & Douglas J. Wiebe, Investigating the Link Between Gun Possession and Gun Assault, 99 Am. J. Pub. Health 2034 (Nov. 2009), at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2759797/pdf/2034.pdf.))

The gun lobby has often cited to a thoroughly debunked statistic that guns are used defensively 2.5 million times per year in the United States.  That number came from a 1995 study that suffered from several fatal methodological flaws, including its reliance on only 66 responses in a telephone survey of 5,000 people, multiplied out to purportedly represent over 200 million American adults.2  The authors of that discredited study themselves stated that in up to 64% of their reported defensive gun use cases, the guns were carried or used illegally, including cases where the victim was actually the aggressor.3

A study published in 2013 by the Violence Policy Center, using five years of nationwide statistics (2007-2011) compiled by the federal Bureau of Justice found that defensive gun use occurs at a dramatically lower rate, or about 98.5% lower than the gun lobby has claimed.4  The V.P.C. also found that for every one justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 44 criminal homicides.5  This ratio does not take into account the tens of thousands of lives lost in gun suicides or accidental shootings every year.

A study reviewing surveys of gun use in the U.S. determined that most self-reported self-defense gun uses may also have been illegal and against the interests of society.6

 

  1. David Hemenway, Private Guns, Public Health 78 (2004). []
  2. See David Hemenway, Policy and Perspective: Survey Research and Self-Defense Gun Use: An Explanation of Extreme Overestimates, 87 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 1430, 1432 (1997). []
  3. Gary KIeck & Marc Gertz, Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun, 86 J. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 150, 174 (1995). []
  4. Marty Langley & Josh Sugarmann, Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use: An Analysis of Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Crime Victimization Survey Data, Violence Policy Center 1, 9 (Apr. 2013), at http://www.vpc.org/studies/justifiable.pdf. []
  5. Marty Langley & Josh Sugarmann, Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use: An Analysis of Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Crime Victimization Survey Data, Violence Policy Center 1, 2 (Apr. 2013), at http://www.vpc.org/studies/justifiable.pdf. See also, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Crime in the United States, 2009, Expanded Homicide Data Table 15, at http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/offenses/expanded_information/data/shrtable_15.html (last visited Oct. 10, 2010)(reporting that of the 13,636 Americans who were murdered in 2009, only 215 involved justifiable homicide by firearms and only 165 involved justifiable homicide by handguns). []
  6. David Hemenway, Deborah Azrael & Matthew Miller, Gun Use in the United States: Results from Two National Surveys, 6 Inj. Prevention 263, 263 (2000). []