Just how many defensive gun uses are there each year?

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Gun control will be a hot topic for a very long time. However, one area that doesn’t get discussed nearly enough is the total number of defensive gun uses.


While the media spends a lot of time talking about how many people die from gunshots each and every year–typically conflating suicides with homicides–in an effort to advance a gun control agenda, they ignore the many times law-abiding citizens use firearms defensively every year.

But just how many defensive gun uses are there?

How often are firearms used defensively in the United States? According to the most-recent study, about 1.6 million times annually. Over a lifetime, about a third of gun owners will use a firearm defensively at least once. This recent data is broadly consistent with decades of social-science research.

The first pollster to ask about defensive gun use (DGU) was the Field Poll in California in 1976. Over the subsequent 18 years, polling companies such as Gallup, Hart and Tarrance, as well as scholars and media, conducted their own surveys of DGU. They reported results as low as 764,000 annually (Tarrance, 1994) and as high as 3.6 million (Los Angeles Times, 1994).

In 1993, Florida State University criminology professor Gary Kleck conducted a survey that was much more methodologically sophisticated than all the above polls. Kleck included safeguards designed to weed out respondents who might misdescribe a DGU story. Kleck and his coauthor Marc Gertz found a midpoint estimate of 2.5 million DGUs annually, with a possible range of 2 to 3 million. Their study is described in the Kleck and Gertz article, “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun,” in the Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology (1995), which is available on the web, and is further described in Kleck’s 1997 book Targeting Guns. The book and the article also examine all previous surveys.


Oh, but some claim, Kleck’s work has been debunked.

Has it, though?

The same journal issue that published the Kleck & Gertz study also published a response by Marvin Wolfgang. He had long been the most-influential criminologist in the English-speaking world, and he was past president of the American Society of Criminology. Wolfgang wrote: “I am as strong a gun-control advocate as can be found among the criminologists in this country … . I would eliminate all guns from the civilian population and maybe even from the police. I hate guns … . Nonetheless, the methodological soundness of the current Kleck and Gertz study is clear … . The Kleck and Gertz study impresses me for the caution the authors exercise and the elaborate nuances they examine methodologically. I do not like their conclusions that having a gun can be useful, but I cannot fault their methodology. They have tried earnestly to meet all objections in advance and have done exceedingly well.”

Wolfgang isn’t exactly an NRA supporter.

Of course, most of us have long known these numbers. We knew how many millions of defensive gun uses there are each year.

It well outstrips the number of lives claimed by gunshot wounds, that’s for sure.

However, it’s interesting how even the smallest estimates for defensive gun use outstrip those numbers as well. Literally no credible study shows otherwise. Even the more heavily biased studies that put defensive gun uses at 100,000 each year still argue there are twice as many lives saved by guns than taken.


Why is the media ignoring this reality?

We all know why. They can claim they are simply neutral parties in the debate all they want, but they always seem to miss this. Even if they report the studies themselves, they never seem to make it into later stories about guns and gun control.

But the number of gun deaths always does.

Funny how that shakes out, isn’t it?

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