If you need 300 guns to shoot a deer, may be hunting is not your sport.

"If guns were the answer to the threat of violent crime, wed sell them at police headquarters."
Neil Behrens, former Chief, Baltimore County, MD Police Department

Liberalism Resurgent

GUNS - Facts and Myths ... continued ...

The following chart shows the general climb of both the murder rate and firearm sales in the U.S. :

Murder rate (per 100,000) and firearm sales (millions of constant dollars, CPI-U)

Year          MurderRate    FirearmSales (million $)

Since 1989, manufacturers and importers introduced an average of 3.5 million new guns into the U.S. market each year. By contrast, the U.S. resident population has grown an average of 2.7 million a year. That's roughly 800,000 extra guns a year.

In 1993, about 1.3 million Americans faced an assailant armed with a firearm. Of those, 86 percent (or 1.1 million) of the incidents involved a handgun.

Here is the breakdown for all the weapons or methods used to commit murder from 1980 to 1993.
Notice the trend for guns and handguns :

Weapon or Method            1980             1993
Guns (all types)62.4%69.6%
Cutting or Stabbing19.312.7
Blunt objects5.04.4
Personal weapons5.95.0
All others3.85.5

And here are the circumstances surrounding murders for 1993 : "Felonies" include robbery, narcotics, rape etc.)

Circumstances surrounding murder :

Circumstances             1993
Other motives21.7

For murders in 1994, almost half of the victims were either related to (12 percent) or acquainted with (35 percent) their killers. Only 13 percent were killed by total strangers. Of female victims, 28 percent were killed by their husbands or boyfriends.

Types of Firearm deaths - 1993 :

Type Number
Firearm homicide18,571
Handgun homicide13,980
Justifiable homicide           251

In 1993, the FBI counted 24,526 murders ( 13,980 by handguns )
yet only 251 of these were justifiable homicides by civilians using handguns.
This is only one percent of all murders!

However, "justifiable homicide" is a narrowly-defined legal term, meaning the killing of an assailant in self-defense, and as a last resort. For example, shooting someone for stealing your car is not considered justifiable homicide (unless your life is in danger).

More on this below.

And then there are the international statistics, which also show a clear correlation between handgun ownership and murder rates.

( Note: the first two statistics are for handguns, not guns in general. )

Percent of households with a handgun :

Country             Households - %
United States
United Kingdom

Handgun murders - 1992 :

Country                       Handgun Murders                1992 population                Handgun Murder Rate
( per 100,000 )
United States13,429 254,521,0005.28
United Kingdom3357,797,5140.06

As for overall firearm possession, the U.S. again comes in first, with half of all households owning a firearm. Canada is also near the top of the possession list, with a 29 percent ownership rate. Not surprisingly, they lead the list in murder rates :

Country              Murders per 100,000
United States
United Kingdom


The general correlation between the murder rate and the ownership of guns, especially handguns, is clear. Some might try to muddy this correlation by appealing to differences in gun control laws, but that doesn't help much.

Europeans have far stricter gun regulation than the U.S.. So their lower murder rates are actually an argument in favor of gun control.

The correlation between gun availability and murder begs the question : which causes which?

Before delving into this argument, we should note that the correlation itself is embarrassing to the gun lobby. They would love nothing more than to see the U.S. with both the highest gun ownership and lowest murder rate in the world. But this is not the case, and gun lobbyists are reduced to esoteric, "what-if" types of arguments.

For example, what if the U.S. had even fewer guns than it has now? Then the murder rate would be even higher, they claim. (!!!) It's only because the murder rate is soaring that people are defending themselves by buying more guns.

There are several weaknesses to this argument.

One might ask what kind of a "deterrence" is correlated to the very crime it is supposed to deter. The gun advocate might respond, "Well, firefighters are correlated to forest fires." But in the latter stages of a fire there is a negative correlation, as firefighters increase and fires diminish. A similar negative correlation between guns and murder has yet to be observed, anyplace, anywhere.

Furthermore, when guns are involved in the vast majority of murders -- 70 percent and growing -- it is clear that the "solution" and the "problem" are one and the same.

One might also ask how a nation achieves a high murder rate in the first place without guns. After all, it's not easy to kill by clubbing, stabbing or hanging; these methods lack the super-ability and feasibility that guns provide. This is borne out by the fact that the murder rate is significantly lower in places where these are the primary murder methods. An even stronger rebuttal is the effect of gun control laws.

If the above pro-gun argument were true, we should expect to see the murder rate climb, not fall, after the passage of gun control laws. But the introduction of gun control in Washington D.C., Kansas City, Canada, the Massachusetts 1974 Bartley-Fox Amendment, and the Brady Law shows that the murder rate indeed falls.

But perhaps the greatest weakness of the pro-gun argument is that only I percent of all murders are considered by the FBI to be justifiable homicide by firearm. Self-defense might be the intention of people who buy guns, but when these weapons actually get used, it's almost always for murder. The implications of this are fatal to the pro-gun argument, because people's intentions are irrelevant -- the only thing that matters is how these guns are actually used. If they are used mostly for murder, with little deterrence effect, then the arrow of causality runs from gun availability to murder. Even then, causality wouldn't be the central issue here; guns could be banned simply on the grounds that they are used mostly for murder.

Not surprisingly, the gun lobby has mounted a furious assault on this statistic.
They have done this in two ways :

1) Question the "justifiable homicide" figures.

Some criticize the FBI for reading police reports, not trial outcomes, to determine the number of justifiable homicides. Possibly, a different truth might emerge in trial. But if a criminal homicide may turn out to be justified in trial, there is no reason to believe that the opposite wouldn't occur as well : a similar number of justified homicides turning out to be criminal. The likelihood for the latter is quite great, since, after all, self-defense is a common excuse for murder.

Pro-gun advocates have yet to provide evidence that this phenomenon alters the statistics in any significant way. Others claim that the legal term "justifiable homicide" is too narrow. For example, if an intruder enters your house, you are legally required to run out the back door ( if there is one ). Shooting him is not considered justifiable homicide. It is only considered justified if you have no back door, and his advances are such that you believe your life to be in danger.

Gun owners scoff at this law, but there is actually a good reason for it. The intruder may be drunk, drugged, mentally ill, poisoned, and not at all predisposed to robbing your house under normal conditions. The proper place for him could be a treatment center, a hospital, or even prison. But to kill him is a miscarriage of justice -- especially in the case of a mentally ill person. Better to escape and let your insurance cover any damage to your property than to have a homicide on your conscience the rest of your life.

But on the rationale that "justifiable homicide,, is too narrow a term, pro-gun researchers have attempted to include other worthy categories, like "sudden combat" or "excusable homicides.,, An example is when someone pushes you down, and in the suddenness and confusion of combat you stop thinking and react instinctively, shooting him, even though he meant no further harm and your life was not in danger.

The FBI reports that only 1.4 percent of all homicides are "excusable." Pro-gun criminologist Gary Kleck (whose figures, as we shall see, are not deemed credible by the rest of the scientific community) therefore uses the term "Civilian Legal Defensive Homicides" (or CLDH's), a category which includes justifiable and excusable homicide. Even by his more liberal definition, however, only 7.1 to 12.9 percent of all murders are firearm CLDH'S.

This hardly proves that guns are used to kill more in self-defense than in the commission of a crime.

2) Adding nonfatal gun defenses.

Fatally shooting an attacker isn't the only way a gun can prevent crime; wounding him, firing warning shots, or simply waving the gun may do the trick. How often does this happen? Therein lies the controversy. The most reliable figure comes from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), one of the nation's two main methods of measuring crime.

In recent years, incidents where victims have used a gun in one way or another against their robbers or assailants have numbered 70,000 a year. This is almost three times more than the murder rate of 24,000 which suggests guns are more beneficial than they are detrimental. However, that's not really the right way to look at it. if it's nonfatal gun defenses we are considering, then nonfatal crimes must be considered as well. And, again, those 70,000 nonfatal gun defenses formed only 1 percent of the total robberies and assaults performed each year.

In 1993, 1.3 million of these crimes involved guns. In other words, guns are 19 times more likely to be used in a nonfatal crime than a nonfatal defense. Kleck and others have criticized the NCVS for undercounting the number of times victims use guns against their attackers. Kleck himself surveyed 4,979 households, and his results project that there were 2.4 million gun defenses.

In 1992, 1.9 million of them with handguns. About 72% of these gun defenses occurred in or near the home. If his results are credible, then guns protect far more than they are used in crime, and arguably have social utility. Should Kleck's figures be regarded as more accurate than the NCVS?

To those familiar with both, the answer is a resounding no. The NCVS is the nation's second largest on-going survey. It questions 59,000 households twice a year, and has been in operation for over 20 years. It employs state-of-the-art methodology, with some of the nation's finest statisticians constantly refining and testing the validity of its results. Most of the surveys are conducted over the phone, and it has a 97 percent participation rate. A respondent's anonymity is also guaranteed by law. Unfortunately, its survey results often describe a world quite different from some people's political beliefs, so the NCVS is regularly blasted as "untrustworthy," "inept," "ideologically driven," etc.

By comparison, Kleck's survey was 12 times smaller, and not conducted by any nationally known survey organization. His sample appears to have concentrated on urban men from the South and West, populations which identify most closely with America's gun culture. His projection of 2.4 million gun defenses was based on a mere 54 responses describing incidents of self-defenses with a gun. The exact nature of these defenses, and how often they occurred per respondent, is unknown.

Why? Kleck did not write a paper for more than a year after his survey, and as of 1995 has still not written a technical article for peer review. Instead, he has hit the publicity circuit, promoting his findings in newspapers, magazines and talk shows. Ducking peer review is a common method of pseudo-scientists and cranks, one for which there is no valid reason or excuse.

Gun researcher David Hemenway writes of Kleck's survey :

"His results are not consistent with other private surveys, and differ from the results of the National Crime Victimization Survey by a factor of thirty. In a radio interview, Kleck seemed to imply that perhaps twenty-nine out of thirty respondents who use a gun in self-defense do not tell the NCVS of this because they either possess or are using the gun illegally.

"Kleck's numbers imply that in an attempted robbery, the victim is far more likely to use a gun than the perpetrator is to have a gun His findings imply that women defend themselves with guns in more than 40 percent of sexual assaults.

His results also indicate that whenever someone is at home during a burglary, even asleep, about 80 percent of the time they are able to get and use a gun for defense, even though only half of all households have a gun ...

"His results also indicate that some 192,000 offenders were wounded or killed in these self-defense uses of guns. By comparison, one published study reports the total annual number of nonfatal firearm injuries to be 140,000. Kleck speculates that the reason the casualties implied in his study do not show up in the medical data are that most must not have sought medical attention. Anyway, nothing is yet available that indicates we should place much faith in Kleck's results."

Kleck has a history of producing analysis that is roundly rejected by academia. His earlier estimates of successful gun defenses have differed substantially not only from academic consensus, but from each other -- 340,000 in 1986, 645,000 in 1988, and 2.4 million today. The earlier estimates were based on eight small private surveys that asked a single, vague question about using a gun for protection or self-defense. These studies failed to question a cross-section of the nation, or determine the nature of the self-defense, or the time period involved.

They failed to distinguish from police and military uses, or uses against humans and animals, or the "self-protection" of a guard who merely wears a sidearm, or even two fighting gangsters who draw their weapons in self-defense. There is also a question of perception -- in almost all arguments, both parties perceive their behavior as self-defensive.

Even criminals frequently see themselves as the victims of aggression. A National Institute of Justice report states : "Among a sample of prisoners, 48 percent of those who fired their guns while committing crimes claimed they did so in self-defense. Really, now!

The University of Maryland conducted an academic review of Kleck's earlier work and found that "Kleck's conclusions rest on limited data. Small changes in the procedures would produce large differences in the findings. The estimates are questionable, and it appears unwise to place much weight on them.

Until Kleck submits formal research that can be positively appraised by peer review, there is no reason to trust his alleged and highly contradictory findings.

The NCVS remains the most authoritative source on the criminal and defensive uses of guns, and it shows that these weapons are overwhelmingly used more for crime than self-defense. But much of the controversy over how guns are used overlooks an even more basic issue. And that is that you cannot credit a disease for its own partial cure.

Even if Kleck could prove that guns were used in 100 million cases of self-defense each year, that still would not prove that guns have social utility, as long as they still drive up the murder rate. Suppose that our nation, in the name of personal security, started selling everyone vials of the Ebola virus, the horrific and contagious plague that causes agonizing and certain death in a matter of days.

A few unbalanced criminals may use this virus to create plagues that kill 20,000 people a year before containment. But that's no problem : supporters have 100 million proven cases, with rock solid documentation, that the counter-threat of Ebola poisoning stopped criminals from further such murder.

Needless to say, we would certainly find it odd if a "National Ebola Association" were to argue that Ebola vials provide social utility and greater security based on these numbers. Any rational society would simply choose not to hand out vials of Ebola to its population in the first place.

America's gun ownership

Gun Control - A public Necessity