Good guys with guns are the best protection against armed criminals, gun rights groups say. But there is little data to corroborate that claim, and the data that does exist varies widely.
How often do Americans use firearms in self-defense? That’s a basic question whose answer could shed much light on the gun control discussion now swirling through Washington.
The National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups say that good guys with guns are the nation’s best protection against armed criminals. Does the data bear that out?
Well, the short answer is there is not much data to go on. So we don’t really know for sure. For years, public policy researchers have pointed to self-defense as an aspect of gun use that needs much more study.
“While a large body of research has considered the effects of firearms on injury, crime, and suicide, far less attention has been devoted to understanding their defensive and deterrent effects,” concluded an in-depth 2005 National Research Council study of the state of firearms and violence data.
The data that does exist varies widely. According to Bureau of Justice Statistics numbers, each year between 1987 and 1992 about 62,200 victims of violent crimes used guns to defend themselves, while another 20,000 annually used guns to protect property. According to the National Self-Defense Survey conducted by criminology professor Gary Kleck of Florida State University in 1993, Americans used guns 2.3 million times a year to defend themselves between 1988 and 1993.
That’s a pretty big spread. As a 2012 Congressional Research Service report on gun issues points out, law enforcement agencies do not collect self-defense information as a matter of course, and the available research thus depends on limited numbers of surveys and other self-reported information.