Monday, January 7, 2013

More Proof that DGU Claims are Exaggerated

Like approximately 30,000 other interested people, I read The Truth About Guns every day. I find it to be the single greatest source of information on gun rights and gun control issues, bar none. Recently the readership has topped 1 million unique visitors per month, which breaks down to over 30,000 a day.

Regular commenters must number about 100, maybe more, and one of their favorite topics is DGUs, defensive gun uses.  They have a lot at stake in pushing the exaggerated and inflated estimates of how many DGUs there are each year.  The most popular and most frequently repeated is the famous 2.5 million which Professors Kleck and Gertz came up with some years ago.  If this were true, gun control folks would be hard pressed to compete. Fortunately, many people in many ways have debunked this ridiculous claim, my favorite is The Propaganda Professor's.

Here's another one. If there are 100 million gun owners and 2.5 million DGUs per year, the percentage of gun owners who use their gun defensively each year is 2.5%.  Agreed?

If there are 30,000 unique daily readers of TTAG and 2.5% of them have personal defensive gun uses each year, we should see 750 first-hand reports each year.

I have seen none, not one single first hand report of a defensive gun use by a TTAG reader. Of course it's possible that I missed one or even ten, but there should have been 750, that's more then 2 each day.

Before anyone gets upset about my slanting the numbers, let's do this. Even many gun-rights fanatics admit the 2.5 million figure is too high.  They often say a million or so.  That would bring the 750 down to 300. And let's say there may be readers who are too shy to share their experience on the internet.  I find that hard to believe but let's go wild and say HALF of the folks who have saved lives with their guns and read TTAG every day chose to keep it to themselves.  Now we're down to 150.

I repeat, I have seen none.

The explanation is obvious.  Estimates that put the true figure of DGU down around 1,000 per year make for a percentage that looks like this: 0.00001%.  When you apply that percentage to the 30,000 TTAG readers it's easy to see why we don't regularly see reports of defensive gun use.

What's your opinion?  Please leave a comment.


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  2. Why do you even attempt data analysis? If the 2.5% number is correct, that's of total gun owners, not readers of The Truth About Guns. In addition, regular readers of that site have seen the advice to shut up about such incidents--prosecutors, plaintiffs' attorneys, and so forth are reading, too.

    1. Oh, yeah, lawyers' advice. That's why none of them reported it to the blog that they live and breathe for.

    2. Mikeb, you're the one with the obsession. We have many things in our lives

    3. Wrong, Greg. The guys who read and write on TTAG are among the most passionate in the gun-blog world. How else do you explain the total absence of first-hand DGU reports. Lawyers' advice is one. Any more?

    4. Mikeb, I get tired of having to help you analyze data, but I'll give it another go. There are a limited number of regular commentors--under a hundred, certainly. That's a small number. There's nothing difficult about understanding that a small sample like that may not have had many examples of defensive gun uses. I have seen a handful of cases mentioned, but here again, people who carry are told by their trainers to shut up after an event.

      But again, you and the Propaganda Professor reject valid studies and demand anecdotal evidence. Stories told on a website are interesting, but the plural of anecdote is not data.

    5. Greg, thanks for the help. Do you really think a reader who never has commented would not do so if he had a true DGU to write about. I allowed for the shy ones by cutting the number in half. But, none, zero?

      Are you incapable of admitting that someone who disagrees with you just might have a point?

    6. Mikeb, when you have one, I'll acknowledge it. Your attempt here at a point is that you haven't read reports of defensive gun uses at a popular gun blog, so they must be rare. How about trying reasoning some time?

  3. I'm not sure where you're getting the DGU estimate of "1,000" from. The lowest estimate I've ever heard from a reputable source is the National Criminal Victimization Survey's (NCVS) guess of approximate "108,000" per year, but NCVS is notorious for underreporting everything (including crime) across the board due to the structuring of its methodology. The number is therefore at least 108,000, probably higher.

    As for the "1,000" number. Maybe that's the number who actually take a shot and kill someone? Kleck's research is pretty explicit that most DGUs involve zero shots fired, so I'm not sure that methodology of "shot's fired equals success" works. You're going to have to explain where this "estimate" is coming from. Besides, I think you're also underestimating the number of gun owners. Gallup would like to have a word with you....

    1. You'll have to help me with that Gallup link. Does it say more than 100 million?

      About the 1,000, did you read the Propaganda Professor?

    2. His argument is that the NCVS is somehow unreliable, and we should use media accounts rather than hard studies by the DoJ. Never mind that NCVS consistently UNDERREPORTS most incidents of crime relative to available police reports (let alone incidents of crime or self-defense that go unnoticed by authorities). It's also really funny that a website that claims to "offer solid fact without becoming pedantic, and personality without relying on opinion", yet inserts fun pieces of rhetoric like "gun culture". He also only posits that the media would be reliably reporting on these things, using supposition to ignore a hard study by the DoJ.

      Even his "refutation" of Gary Kleck ignores Kleck' actual research. Kleck didn't just "interview 222" people, 222 people out of several thousand interviewees responded positively. I'll let him respond himself.

      "While all Rs reporting a DGU were given the full interview, only a one-third random sample of Rs not reporting a DGU were interviewed. The rest were simply thanked for their help. This procedure helped keep interviewing costs down. In the end, there were 222 completed interviews with Rs reporting DGUs, another 1,610 Rs not reporting a DGU but going through the full interview by answering questions other than those pertaining to details of the DGUs. There were a total of 1,832 cases with the full interview. An additional 3,145 Rs answered only enough questions to establish that no one in their household had experienced a DGU against a human in the previous five years (unweighted totals). These procedures effectively under-sampled for non-DGU Rs or, equivalently, over sampled for DGU-involved Rs. Data were also weighted to account for this over sampling."

  4. Or maybe the people who read TTAG often have learned to STFU (shut the **** up) after a defensive gun use) ... as Greg Camp points out above?!?!?!

    Anything someone types on a blog such as this or a site such as TTAG is easily traceable. I wouldn't say anything publicly about a defensive gun use unless I was tried and acquitted. At that point I could say anything and not have to worry about a second trial thanks to the double-jeopardy doctrine.

    1. All of them, every one? All 750, which is what it should have been if there really are so many DGUs?

      Isn't a more likely explanation that the exaggerated numbers of DGUs are not true.

  5. MikeB,

    Our beloved FBI Uniform Crime Reports state there were roughly 300 citizen (non law enforcement) justifiable homicides in the U.S. in 2010. (

    And that number is low because it doesn't include how many incidents went to trial and resulted in the acquittal of the defendant. But let's stick with 300. We know that gunshot wounds in general are fatal about 20% of the time. Thus there were at least 1500 defensive gun uses that only injured and did not cause the death of the criminal. That totals 1800 defensive gun uses. Then we have to account for the fact that citizens merely display their handgun roughly 90% of the time to stop criminals. Thus citizens would have "brandished" their firearms 18,000 times in defensive gun uses.

    So based only on the number of documented justifiable homicides, we can sensibly and quite accurately estimate that there were at least 20,000 (300 + 1,500 + 18,000) defensive gun uses in 2010. And that is an absolute minimum. It is quite reasonable to assume that many, many more people brandished or fired at and missed attackers and never reported the event to law enforcement for various reasons.

    Your estimate of 1,000 is way off the mark.

    Note: in order to refute my minimum estimate you have to:
    (1) Tell us why the FBI data is wrong.
    (2) Tell us your authoritative source that says most gun shot wounds are lethal.
    (3) And tell us your authoritative source that says armed citizens almost always shoot and injure/kill their attackers rather than brandish.

    1. The 300 is too high because although they were ruled legit, some of them were either unnecessary or actually criminal. The gunshot wounds being fatal 20% is a rough guestimate. You can't build on a guess. Same with the 90% are brandishings. But with the brandishings it's even worse. many of them were unnecessary, many of them never even happened and all we have is the word of the gun owner.

      How can you, a guy who demands proof and evidence, base your whole argument on crap like that? 90% of it you have no reports or evidence of any kind except the hearsay of the supposed shooter.

  6. 1. 232 is not "roughly 300".
    2. Who says gunshot wounds are fatal 20% of the time? I found a source that says about a third:
    "GSWs remain an important public health problem. They were the second leading cause of injury death (32 400 deaths) behind motor vehicle traffic related death (42 500 deaths) in 1997.4 In addition, GSWs contributed an estimated 64 200 non-fatal injuries treated in hospital emergency departments in the United States in 1997, about half of which required hospitalization. "
    3. That count goes for *all* GSWs including accidental ones. Obviously the percentage of fatalities for purposeful shots must be higher. It certainly is for suicide.
    4. And your authoritative source for that 90% brandishers? There's no evidence at all. Eugene Lott's "survey" generalized on the basis of 7 respondents who claimed to have used their guns 12 times, shooting just once. You can make an inference from a number like that, it's like saying if you have 10 friends and one of them is named Gustav therefore 10% of the population is named Gustav
    So you're right,Mike's estimate is way off the mark. The number of defensive gun uses is probably around 700.

    1. I mean you can not make such an inference, of course.

    2. Yastreblyansky,

      You didn't even get the exact number right from the link I provided. The exact number is 278, not 232, "... private citizens justifiably killed 278 people during the commission of a crime." Open the link and search for the number 278. I simply rounded to 300 for easy math. Rounding 278 to 300 is reasonable and precision isn't my objective: getting in the ballpark is.

      Your source that says gunshot wounds are fatal one-third of the time is old (1997) and doesn't change the estimate very much. Using your source, 300 justifiable homicides means there were 600 additional defensive gun uses where the citizen shot and wounded their attacker. Thus 300 plus 600 is 900 total defensive gun uses where an armed citizen shot and either wounded or killed their attacker in the year 2010 ... based strictly on the FBI's data of justifiable homicides reported to them from police departments. This 900 number and my original 1500 number both get us in the ballpark. (I mistyped 1800 instead of 1500 in my original post.)

      Now on to brandishing. Do you really think armed citizens shoot their attackers most of the time? My statement that armed citizens simply brandish their firearms most of the time matches real world experience. There are countless first hand accounts and surveillance videos. And there are countless times that police officers "brandish" their guns to stop criminals. After all, police officers were responsible for about 400 justifiable homicides in 2010. Using your number that gunshots are lethal one third of the time, then police officers shot and injured another 800 criminals. Are you going to tell me that police officers only drew their guns 1200 (400 plus 800) times across the entire United States in 2010 ... because they almost never brandish and almost always pull the trigger and actually hit their target? Thus all police across the entire United States only pull their guns less than 4 times a day every day? You and I both know that is absurd. And it is just as absurd to think that armed citizens only pull guns to defend themselves just 3 times a day across the entire United States.

      Finally, your assertion that the mortality rate of "purposeful shots" is significantly higher than the mortality rate of all gunshot wounds is nonsense since 90% or more of all gunshot deaths are from "purposeful shots". (In 2010, criminals used a firearm to murder about 10,000 victims whereas citizens accidentally shot and killed about 600 victims.)

    3. Thanks Yast. for the input.

    4. Pleasure. You do fantastic work here.

      To Anonymous: You need to read more carefully. 287 total deaths of which 232 from firearms (see Expanded Homicide Data Table 15).

      The 1997 data says 33%, your Lott "data" says 20%. Have gunshot wounds become less lethal over the past decade? Or have all you guys become more expert at shooting guns out of attackers' hands like in the movies? I don't believe it but show me some real data. The only real data I've seen happens to be from 1997.

      I've found some data on the accidental vs. purposeful and fatal vs. nonfatal parameters but it will take me a while to write it up.

    5. Never mind. See the breakdown of CDC figures for 2000-2007 at It really is 20% or so fatalities for private citizens intentionally shooting at others. My 33% was including suicide attempts by firearms, which are 80% fatal. I still don't think it is justified to assume the number applied to defensive ("justifiable) shootings, but the number itself is OK.

      I found a study on brandishing from 1994 that I think gets cited a lot by the anonymi of the world: Judging from the abstract I think there is a hilarious methodological error that inflates their estimates by around 100% even if their other assumptions are correct.

    6. Yastreblyansky,

      Thank you for the clarification that 232 of the 287 justifiable homicides were with firearms. Firearms were on my brain and I assumed (inappropriately) that all 287 justifiable homicides were with guns.

      And thank you for recognizing that the fatality rate of citizens purposefully shooting others is around 20%.

      As for brandishing, no one can claim an exact number. What real world experience tells us is that citizens brandish rather than shoot most of the time. Whether citizens brandish 80%, 90%, or 95% of the time no one knows for certain. Regardless, that increases the number of defensive gun uses significantly beyond the number body count from justifiable homicides.

      So my numbers do get us in the ballpark. And other factors will increase the number a lot more such as events where the armed citizen fired shots and missed as well as the number of events where citizens did not report their events to law enforcement.

  7. As a research specialist, this threat primarily illustrates why all those who seriously study the question NEVER rely upon reports of personal experience or debates about who might report or not report to any web site. Take the research studies seriously and ignore this thread. The methodology is invalid.

    1. And your point is what? Do you have a best guess as to how many DGUs there are each year?