Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Big DGU Question

The question is "how many?" How many times per year do people use guns to protect themselves? Professor Gary Kleck, noted pro-gun criminologist from Florida State University conducted a survey which he claims leads to the conclusion that 2.5 million such encounters occur each year. Of course this has been refuted by other academics, including Dr. David Hemenway of Harvard in his book entitled Private Guns, Public Health. Hemenway's contention is that Kleck's inflated numbers are the result of many "false positives" from the respondents.

The NCVS (National Crime Victimization Survey) is offered as a more reasonable alternative. This survey controlled for a "threatened, attempted or completed victimization," thereby eliminating most of the false positives Kleck retained. The resulting estimate for defensive gun use is between 55,000 and 120,000 annually.

The NCVS report has some limitations. It only considered six serious crimes, omitting such things as trespassing and vandalism, which could certainly warrant legitimate defensive gun use. On the other hand, no one seems too concerned with the offensive and unnecessary use of guns which are often described as legitimate after the fact. Perhaps that kind of thing has no place in serious academic research, being impossible to quantify. Blogs like this are the place to explore these possibilities, but it requires common sense, logic and honesty. My contention has always been that when you've got millions of gun owners, you're going to have a certain amount of this misuse which is naturally covered up as much as possible. It's human nature. It's all part of the 10%.

Cliff wrote a wonderful post last year over at One Utah about this. Reference is made to the National Institute of Justice report entitled, Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms.

Regardless of which estimates one believes, only a small fraction of adults have used guns defensively in 1994. The only question is whether that fraction is 1 in 1,800 (as one would conclude from the NCVS) or 1 in 100 (as indicated by the NSPOF estimate based on Kleck and Gertz’s criteria).

What's your opinion? Does the insistence that there are 2.5 million DGUs per year remind you of the anti-gun crowd insisting that 90% of the Mexican guns come from the U.S.? Maybe it's about time the pro-gun folks backtracked on this one the way the gun control people have on the other.

Please leave a comment.


  1. So an anti-gun professor (Kleck) does a study and finds out his perception has been wrong. It is "debunked" by another anti-gun professor funded by an anti-gun organization. Even though we have shown repeatedly that the new anti-gun professor plays fast and loose with his numbers, we are suppose to believe him? Meanwhile, from the beginning, the 90% number was always "traced guns." However anti-gun people spun this as "all guns." It was pointed out to them for several months and finally, they start to admit that it was this way all along.

    The difference in the studies (if you had read them) is that the Justice department one only counted DGU if a crime was reported to the police. Therefore, it eliminates all of the false positives (someone saying something happened that didn't), but it also eliminated every time a crime was PREVENTED from happening. If some punk comes up to you with a knife on a dark night and says "Give me your wallet!" and you pull your sidearm and the punk runs away before you have even pointed it at him (not all criminals are dumb), do you think people are going to report that to the police? Sometimes maybe, but the fact is you weren't hurt, you didn't lose anything, the perp is gone, you don't have a good description of him, etc, etc. Is this not a legitimate defensive gun use? Kleck's study is not perfect, but it attempts to quantify something that by and large isn't reported.

  2. MikeB,

    What about just one defensive gun use?

    If my firearm prevents me from being a victim of crime, isn't that enough?

    We have laws against murder, assault, rape, robbery, etc. Those laws do not stop the crime from happening. Firearms are PROVEN to have stopped and PREVENTED crime.

    You still haven't shown why the government has the power to restrict my access to firearms because of the actions of other people.

    Absent mental issues, only the misuse, the criminal misuse of firearms should cause a person to loose their right to keep and bear arms. I haven't criminally misused firearms. So the presence of my firearms is not a concern for you or the government.

    Cars kill more people than firearms, yet you aren't calling for reductions in the number of cars.



  5. pistolero,

    Good read, check out my latest analysis of mikeb's "guns are bad news for women" comments.


    I just thought of something else. You have quoted statistics before about only "16% of rapes and sexual assaults are reported." Wouldn't the same thing apply to DGUs? That would put the NCVS in line for 750,000 DGUs a year, which is more in line with the low estimates from numerous other studies.

  6. I used a gun to defend myself at the age of 14. I have no doubt in my mind that having a gun saved my life that day.

    Oh, and I never reported it to the police.

    One more thing, you falsely state that Kleck is pro-gun.

    Sorry, Kleck is an anti. He's just an honest one.

  7. Bob, The old "even if it saves just one life" argument never appealed to me. I know it's used on both sides, but I don't like it because that one life needs to be compared to how many are lost due in the meantime. That's why the question of DGUs is so important. And I guess that's why some people exaggerate the numbers.

    kaveman, Thanks for mentioning tha incident when you were 14. It sounds exciting and dramatic. Have you written about it, could you provide a link? Or would you mind telling us about it in a comment.

    Befor you came around we conducted a Great Gun Survey among ourselves, in which we discussed things like that.

  8. mikeb,

    So you have a very social utilitarian viewpoint. So, if there are 33000 people killed by guns and another 70000 injured, how many deaths and injuries need to be prevented for you to say that guns are a net benefit? 33001 and 70001? Even the NCVS that you like to reference says there are 55000-120000 DGUs a year. I have already told you that they only looked at reported crimes, so surely these all count as prevented deaths or injuries. So what if Kleck's numbers include 90% false positives, that is still 250000 "legitimate" DGUs. Isn't 250000 a bigger number than 55000-120000? Does your social utilitarian viewpoint extend to all aspects of life or do you limit it to just firearms?

  9. The numbers are irrelevant Mike. Yes, they happen to support the pro-gun side, but they arent necessary for us.

    The fact of the matter is it doesn't matter if DGU's are 2500, 25K or 25 million. (which is why you haven't seen me quoting kleck on here)

    These social utility arguments mean nothing. My rights are not dependent on statistics, they're not dependent upon how others use (or misuse) them. Also, I don't have to p;rove the efficacy of gun ownership. Those who wish to infringe upon my rights bear the burden of proof.

  10. Reputo said, "So you have a very social utilitarian viewpoint."

    What's your point? Do you agree with Mike W., that it doesn't matter what the numbers are, the "right" cannot be infringed?

    Let's say guns really do cause more harm than they prevent, and let's say that was proven beyond doubt, would you still stand with Mike W.?

  11. IF free speech caused more harm than good would you lose your right?

    What about freedom of religion? Assembly?

  12. Yes I support Mike W. stand.

    I also support the KKK's and Black Panther Party's stand to be able to spout off whatever hatred that makes them feel better.

    I support the criminal's right to be secure in his home from warrantless searches.

    I support the Million Mom's right to march on Washington DC.

    I support the Wicca's right to worship according to their beliefs.

    Supporting these people's rights in no way infringes on someone else's right. Only when someone infringes on the rights of another should the force of law be used.

    So if criminals decided to use cars as WMDs and were crashing into pre-schools everyday, I still would not advocate more restrictions on cars. I would advocate prosecution and punishment of the criminals. If 50,000,000 gun owners decided one night to go on a murderous rampage, the rights of the rest of the country "shall not be infringed." If they are, then we no longer have a republic, but a oligarchy that gets to decide what is right and what is wrong. That led to the deaths of tens of millions in the 20th century. It was all for the good of the people.

    Which is why I point out that you have a social utilitarian viewpoint. And I ask again, is it only towards firearms or do you support warrantless searches if it could be shown that they are more beneficial than harmful? Do you support limiting "hate" speech because it could be shown that less people would commit crimes if we didn't have it? And on and on. If no rights are sacred, and immutable, then you have no rights.

    One of the prices we pay to have a freedom in this country is that there will be people who take advantage of the liberties. Utopia does not exist. Societies have tried to eliminate crime and corruption since Jericho was founded. It has never happened. Trying to pretend that it will is no better than sticking your head in the sand towards the problem.

  13. "One of the prices we pay to have a freedom in this country is that there will be people who take advantage of the liberties"

    Yup. The price of liberty is the risk that it will be abused by some. Life involves risk, as does living in a free society.

  14. "kaveman, Thanks for mentioning tha incident when you were 14. It sounds exciting and dramatic. Have you written about it, could you provide a link?"

    Yes I have written about, you can read it here, written on March 14th of this year...

  15. kave, Thanks for that fantastic story. You tell it so well too. I swear I was on the edge of my seat. I loved it.