Firearms & Self-Defense

Compiled by David Hemenway and a few of his gunshy buddies from the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, no less, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we have dispensed with the statistical defense for we know that statistics are like jelly beans. Everybody boasts a different favorite flavor or color, luscious cherry tart bean or creamy sweet spotted yellow bean, jacks and aces, and it just doesn’t pay to argue with smart people who egregiously bank the truth with arguably dishonest statistics.

Gun Threats and Self-Defense Gun Use

  • Guns are not used millions of times each year in self-defense…
  • Most purported self-defense gun uses are gun uses in escalating arguments and are both socially undesirable and illegal…
  • Firearms are used far more often to intimidate than in self-defense…
  • Guns in the home are used more often to intimidate intimates than to thwart crime…
  • Adolescents are far more likely to be threatened with a gun than to use one in self-defense…
  • Criminals who are shot are typically the victims of crime…
  • Few criminals are shot by decent law abiding citizens…

Oh alright, this is too good to waste. It’s Harvard, you know. And I might need to strut out a damned statistic or two myself, before this nasty bit of derivative junk science is thoroughly debunked. In his first point, Hemenway states, “We use epidemiological theory to explain why the “false positive” problem for rare events can lead to large overestimates of the incidence of rare diseases or rare phenomena such as self-defense gun use. We then try to validate the claims of many millions of annual self-defense uses against available evidence. We find that the claim of many millions of annual self-defense gun uses by American citizens is invalid.”

Well, I’m flummoxed. Let’s take the foundational premise. Millions of annual self-defense gun uses by American citizens. Wiki has this to report: Defensive gun use (DGU) is the use of a firearm in self-defense or defense of others. The frequency of defensive firearms incidents, and their effectiveness in providing safety and reducing crime is a controversial issue in gun politics and criminology. Different authors and studies employ different criteria for what constitutes a defensive gun use which leads to controversy in comparing statistical results. Perceptions of the number of DGUs dominate discussions over gun rights, gun control, and concealed carry laws.

Estimates over the number of defensive gun uses vary, depending on the study’s population, criteria, time-period studied, and other factors. Higher end estimates by Kleck and Gertz show between 1 to 2.5 million DGUs in the United States each year. Low end estimates cited by Hemenway show approximately 55,000-80,000 such uses each year. Middle estimates have estimated approximately 1 million DGU incidents in the United States.

Woman With Pistol

Renee Wyatt of American Guns

Color me naked and strap me to a rocket to Russia. I had no idea the self-defense numbers in this crumbling nation were even that high, but again these are mere bumbling statistics. You wouldn’t know it by hooking into the news cycle. On the pro-gun side, Kleck conducted a national survey in 1994 (the National Self-Defense Survey) and, extrapolating from the 5,000 households surveyed, estimated that in 1993 there were approximately 2.5 million incidents of defensive gun use (DGU—the use of guns for self-protection), compared to about 0.5 million gun crimes as estimated by the National Crime Victimization Survey.

Using his own study of gun use in the 1990s, Hemenway concludes that criminal use of guns is far more common than self-defense use of guns. Hemenway wrote, “We might expect that unlawful ‘self-defense’ gun uses will outnumber the legitimate and socially beneficial ones.” Damn. He actually admitted it. That would seem flatline logical, at least according to Murder & Mayhem Inc. A point for Hemenway to suggest that there exists a large criminal element who commit the bulk of the illegal and harmful gun play in this country. Or did he? Far more gun criminals than gun heroes make the news these days, and that’s not even counting the soldiering and military grade arming of civil servants in the regulatory wings of the Federal government. But those who have guns and don’t use them in any type of gunplay other than in recreational or training usages far outnumber either group. Why is this third group never entered into a volatility equation by the anti-gun crowd?

Hemenway, not one to lose his knickers in a stat fight, said that Kleck’s estimates are difficult to reconcile with comparable crime statistics, are subject to a high degree of sampling error, and that “because of differences in coverage and potential response errors, what exactly these surveys measure remains uncertain; mere repetition does not eliminate bias”. In another article, Hemenway said that Kleck stated that armed women prevented 40 percent of all sexual assaults, a percentage Hemenway said is unlikely because few women report going armed. Take my word for it that the Feds back Hemenway in this statistics discrepancy. And my own good sense also tilts away from Kleck. But we’re far from finished here. In fact, we’ve barely begun the assault on this dragon of statistics gone awry.

An article published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, drawing its DGU from the NCVS, said: “In 1992 offenders armed with handguns committed a record 931,000 violent crimes … On average in 1987-92 about 83,000 crime victims per year used a firearm to defend themselves or their property. Three-fourths of the victims who used a firearm for defense did so during a violent crime; a fourth, during a theft, household burglary, or motor vehicle theft.”

to be continued…

Speak your mind, Pilgrim...

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