Apr 25 2007

Massacre at Virginia Tech: Gun control thoughts (v. 0.1)

Following the massacre in Virginia, the usual voices are advocating increased gun ownership in the US will ensure such incidents are prevented.

The obvious question, is what evidence is such an assertion based upon?

Questions: (note- must check NRA site for its versions)

How many households in USA own guns?
One 1994 survey of the literature says studies show the percentage is around 35-43% (citation: National Institute of Justice Research in Brief ).

How many guns are in private hands in the USA?

From source above:
192 million: 65 million
handguns, 70 million rifles, 49 million shotguns,
and 8 million other long guns (exhibit 4). Of the
handguns, 48 percent were revolvers, 40 percent
semiautomatics, and 12 percent were reported as
“some other type of handgun” by respondents.

How many gun deaths and injuries occur in the USA each year?
Of 1,356 accidental deaths by gunshot
in 1994, 185 involved children 14 years old and
younger.[11] For each such fatality, there are
several accidental shootings that cause serious
injury. Guns were also the means of destruction in
19,590 suicides, 210 involving children 14 or
younger. For these reasons, safe handling and
storage of firearms have attracted the attention of
the public health community.
In 1994 about 17,000 people were shot dead in
criminal assaults and justifiable homicides. Given
what we know about the case fatality rate, fewer
than 100,000 nonfatal gunshot woundings were known
to the police. (See Cook, P.J., “The Case of the
Missing Victims,” Journal of Quantitative
Criminology, 1985). Presumably, the true number of
justifiable shootings was just a fraction of this

In 1997 more than 32,000 Americans were killed with firearms—

  • 17,566 in firearm suicides,
  • 13,522 in firearm homicides,
  • 981 in unintentional firearm deaths,
  • 367 in firearm deaths of undetermined intent.
    National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 47, No. 19, June 30, 1999. cited at at Violence Policy Center website

How does this compare internationally?

If 100% of US households had guns, how many extra deaths could be expected?

3874-3153 accidental, 45,581-55,971 (suicides, though this would be set by average total suicide rate)

What percentage of violent crimes are stopped by civilians with guns?
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

In 1993, the FBI counted 24,526 murders (13,980 by handguns), yet only 251 of these were justifiable homicides by civilians using handguns.(20) 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). Citation here (very good and comprehensive article)

  • For every case in which an individual used a firearm kept in the home in a self-defense homicide, there were 1.3 unintentional deaths, 4.6 criminal homicides, and 37 suicides involving firearms. cite from The New England Journal of Medicine at web page from Violence Policy Center

What is ratio of prevented violent crimes to all gun deaths? (ie how many suicides and accidental deaths for each prevented crime)
Bureau of Justice Statistics’
National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) data,
one would conclude that defensive uses are rare
indeed, about 108,000 per year. But other surveys
yield far higher estimates of the number of DGUs.
Most notable has been a much publicized estimate of
2.5 million DGUs, based on data from a 1994
telephone survey conducted by Florida State
University professors Gary Kleck and Mark
Gertz.[13] The 2.5 million figure has been picked
up by the press and now appears regularly in
newspaper articles, letters to the editor,
editorials, and even Congressional Research Service
briefs for public policymakers. [cite as above]
Comparative gun ownership statistics worldwide?

Comparable gun death rates in countries with comparable levels of gun ownership?

How many guns are obtained by theft? (ie, reducing total number of guns in circulation decreases this pool)
Based on the NSPOF, an estimated 0.9 percent of all
gun-owning households (269,000) experienced the
theft of one or more firearms during 1994. About
211,000 handguns and 382,000 long guns were stolen
in noncommercial thefts that year, for a total of
593,000 stolen firearms. Those estimates are
subject to considerable sampling error but are
consistent with earlier estimates of about half a
million guns stolen annually.[cite as above]

If everyone was trained properly, there wouldn’t be as many gun deaths

Probably not.
Although training programs usually include
suggestions on how to store guns safely, it does
not appear that trainees are paying attention. More
than half (56 percent) of owners had received some
form of “formal” training from the military, law
enforcement, National Rifle Association, National
Safety Council, or other source. As a group, owners
who received such training were no less likely than
others to keep guns loaded and unlocked. This
surprising result is consistent with other recent

and more…
o First, people who draw their guns to defend
themselves against perceived threats are not
necessarily innocent victims; they may have started
fights themselves or they may simply be mistaken
about whether the other persons really intended to
harm them. Survey interviewers must take the
respondent’s word for what happened and why; a
competent police investigation of the same incident
would interview all parties before reaching a

o Second and more generally, the number of DGUs
tells us little about the most important effects on
crime of widespread gun ownership. When a high
percentage of homes, vehicles, and even purses
contain guns, that presumably has an important
effect on the behavior of predatory criminals. Some
may be deterred or diverted to other types of
crime. Others may change tactics, acquiring a gun
themselves or in some other way seeking to preempt
gun use by the intended victim.[16] Such
consequences presumably have an important effect on
criminal victimization rates but are in no way
reflected in the DGU count.

Fascinating talk comparing US and German gun law outcomes

I want to comment very briefly on a couple of these differences. Tougher criminal justice system in Germany? No, nowhere in the Western world is the criminal justice system tougher and more punitive than in the United States. This cannot be an explanation for lower rates of violent crime or gun violence in Germany. If anything, the opposite is true. The United States is one of the few countries in the Western world that practices capital punishment, and we know from comparative and international research that the practice of capital punishment increases the rate of violent crime in a society. It legitimizes the use of violence in order to resolve grievances that people have. In particular, the award-winning study by Archer and Gartner on violence in cross-national comparison demonstrated this.

In addition, of course, there is the incarceration rate. After surpassing the former Soviet Union and South Africa, the United States now imprisons more people than any other country. If anything, the fact that it is no longer a stigma for most people in the ghettos to be sentenced to a prison or jail term certainly means that imprisonment does not work as a deterrent to committing crimes, including violent and gun crimes. So, if anything, it is the tougher and extremely punitive nature of the American criminal justice system that contributes to higher rates of violent crime in American society. That conclusion is very much against the common sense of current American public debates, as I’m well aware, and as I see confirmed by some shaking heads in this room.

go here to read more

and this…

Percent of households with a handgun, 1991 (21)

United States  29%
Switzerland    14
Finland         7
Germany         7
Belgium         6
France          6
Canada          5
Norway          4
Europe          4
Australia       2
Netherlands     2
United Kingdom  1

Handgun murders (1992) (22)

                Handgun    1992          Handgun Murder
Country         Murders    Population    Rate (per 100,000)
United States   13,429    254,521,000    5.28
Switzerland         97      6,828,023    1.42
Canada             128     27,351,509    0.47
Sweden              36      8,602,157    0.42
Australia           13     17,576,354    0.07
United Kingdom      33     57,797,514    0.06
Japan               60    124,460,481    0.05
(citation is here)
pro-gun researcher Kleck is a goose
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. (26) If his results are credible, then guns protect
far more than they are used in crime, and arguably have social

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.” (27)

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.” (28) 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.” (29)

NRA stats

• Privately owned firearms in the U.S.: Well over 200 million, including upwards of 65-70 million handguns. The number rises by approximately 4.5 million annually. (BATFE)• Gun owners in the U.S.: 65-80 million; 30-35 million own handguns• American households that have firearms: Approx. 45%

• Hunters nationwide: 18.5 million (National Shooting Sports Foundation)

• NRA State Associations and Local Clubs: 10,000

• NRA Target Shooting Tournaments annually: 10,000

• NRA Certified Instructors 51,000

Posted: 1/8/2007 12:00:00 AM

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