When anti-gun activists talk about gun research, they argue that the law prevents the CDC from doing anything of the sort. The truth is, the law only prevents the CDC from doing research designed to promote gun control. They can do research, it just has to be unbiased research.
Well, it turns out that about the time that law was passed–1996, for those playing at home–the CDC asked a question that’s been the topic of discussion for some time. Namely, how often is a gun used in self-defense?
It seems they got the answer, then sat on it. What it reveals, however, is interesting (emphasis mine).
Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck conducted the most thorough previously known survey data on the question in the 1990s. His study, which has been harshly disputed in pro-gun-control quarters, indicated that there were more than 2.2 million such defensive uses of guns (DGUs) in America a year.
Now Kleck has unearthed some lost CDC survey data on the question. The CDC essentially confirmed Kleck’s results. But Kleck didn’t know about that until now, because the CDC never reported what it found.
Kleck’s new paper—”What Do CDC’s Surveys Say About the Frequency of Defensive Gun Uses?“—finds that the agency had asked about DGUs in its Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in 1996, 1997, and 1998.
Those polls, Kleck writes,
are high-quality telephone surveys of enormous probability samples of U.S. adults, asking about a wide range of health-related topics. Those that addressed DGU asked more people about this topic than any other surveys conducted before or since. For example, the 1996 survey asked the DGU question of 5,484 people. The next-largest number questioned about DGU was 4,977 by Kleck and Gertz (1995), and sample sizes were much smaller in all the rest of surveys on the topic (Kleck 2001).
Kleck was impressed with how well the survey worded its question: “During the last 12 months, have you confronted another person with a firearm, even if you did not fire it, to protect yourself, your property, or someone else?” Respondents were told to leave out incidents from occupations, like policing, where using firearms is part of the job. Kleck is impressed with how the question excludes animals but includes DGUs outside the home as well as within it.
Kleck further details how much these CDC surveys confirmed his own controversial work:
The final adjusted prevalence of 1.24% therefore implies that in an average year during 1996–1998, 2.46 million U.S. adults used a gun for self-defense. This estimate, based on an enormous sample of 12,870 cases (unweighted) in a nationally representative sample, strongly confirms the 2.5 million past-12-months estimate obtained Kleck and Gertz (1995)….CDC’s results, then, imply that guns were used defensively by victims about 3.6 times as often as they were used offensively by criminals.
For those who wonder exactly how purely scientific CDC researchers are likely to be about issues of gun violence that implicate policy, Kleck notes that “CDC never reported the results of those surveys, does not report on their website any estimates of DGU frequency, and does not even acknowledge that they ever asked about the topic in any of their surveys.”
NPR revisited the DGU controversy last week, with a thin piece that backs the National Crime Victimization Survey’s lowball estimate of around 100,000 such uses a year. NPR seemed unaware of those CDC surveys.
Isn’t that interesting?
Years ago, I cited Kleck’s finding in a column I wrote for the local newspaper. A reader accused me of pulling the number out of my rear in a letter to the editor, which I was given the opportunity to rebut. I did, again citing Kleck’s study.
Maybe in the future, I can cite the CDC’s findings. I suspect those will be more palatable for many people.
It’s also worth pointing out what Kleck himself noted, namely how close the CDC’s finding meshed with his own from roughly the same period of time. Kleck argued 2.5 million DGUs per year, while the CDC found 2.46 million. I’m sorry, but that’s close enough for validation in my book.
Of course, something else that’s worth noting is how even the lowball estimate of 100,000 is still several times greater than the total number of gun-related fatalities each year, and that’s while including both homicides and suicides. Take out the suicides and you get an even more stark difference.
Using the CDC’s findings–or Kleck’s, since they’re just about the same–and now, suddenly, the numbers don’t even come close to justifying gun control.