Ever wish you had some real data on how guns figure into overall accident and crime statistics when the local "expert" starts spouting fantasies issued by HCI ? Well, here are some that are easy to remember along with good 'cites' of work by respected authorities. Fatal gun accidents, particularly those where children are involved always make the news, generally with some blurb decrying the "rising toll", implying gun accidents are on the increase, and only more restrictive gun laws will stem the tide.
The reality is that gun accidents are declining. In the period 1975-95 fatal gun accidents declined almost 60% while per capita gun ownership rose nearly 40%. Contrary to HCI's inflammatory mantra, the most dramatic drop in fatal gun accidents in the last twenty years was for children. That's right! From age 0 to 14 fatal gun accidents plunged from 495 in 1975 to less than 250 in 1995, or 50%!
Sources: Gun supply; BATF. Gun accident rates; National Safety Council
Anti-gun groups often cite "a child is killed every day by guns". The way they reach that figure is to include age groups up to 19, (or in some studies, 24). This distorts the data as the total accidental death rates for all causes rise dramatically from ages 15-44. Further distortions occur when homicides stemming from crime-related activities and child abuse are misreported as accidents. (G. Kleck) But let's compare the "lethality" of guns with everyday hazards and activities anyone can relate to.
Between the ages of 0-14, 110 accidental gun deaths were reported in 1998 while 850 drowning deaths were recorded. Over seven and a half times more children died by drowning than from gun accidents! To look at it another way; in 1998 500 residential pool drowning deaths were recorded for ages 0-4. With an estimated 5 million households with pools, we have a drowning death for every 10,000 households. Conversely, there were 30 accidental gun deaths age 0-4 recorded in approximately 43 million households with guns, or one gun death for every 14.3 million residences with guns. (G. Kleck, Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control)
Another anti-gun staple we hear whenever a gun accident in the home is reported is, " a gun is 43 times more likely to cause a death than prevent a crime". (Kellerman) Unfortunately, this "statistic" doesn't differentiate between actual accidents, and suicides, or homicides. Kellerman has admitted a deliberate anti-gun bias in his study.
In "Targeting Guns," Dr. Gary Kleck, notes most accidents occur in homes and generally involve guns kept for defense, but very few accidents occur with actual defensive use. Gun accidents most often occur in a well-documented group of unusually reckless individuals. Their behaviors are characterized by heavy drinking or drug use, repeated involvement in auto crashes, numerous traffic citations, arrest records for assault and acts of violence. Gun accidents more commonly involve teens and young adults than children.
In the case for defensive guns in the home, Dr. Kleck was forced to conclude from the data the real benefits derived from having a defensive gun in the residence far exceeded the risk of accidental injury. We'll return to defensive gun uses later.
Now take a look at the chart at the top of this article. Looking at the totals by age we see accidental deaths for all causes rise steeply beginning at age 15 and continuing until age 44. That is why many studies include a portion of this group as "children" when citing accidental gun deaths. "Children" killed committing crimes, in gang wars, and by police during felony arrests may also be included.
Many "experts" play the "percentage game" when citing their "statistics". Using the statistics for 1998, here's some "percentages" you can use:
1. Accidental gun deaths in 1998 were less than 1% of total accidental deaths.
By comparison, automobiles accounted for 42% and falls 17% of accidental deaths.
2. Accidental gun deaths peak in age range 15-24 at 34%, or .3% of total deaths.
Significantly, the age group studies identify with the most risk-prone gun behaviors are still only three-tenths of one percent of total accidental deaths.
3. Gun deaths decline in range 25-44 to 29%, and plummet to 14% by range 45-64.
This is a decline of 42%, to one-tenth of 1% of total accidental deaths for 1998. By comparison poisoning in age range 25-44 accounts for 60% of total poisoning deaths and is 5% of total accidental deaths.
No matter how you look at the 1998 data, guns pose less accidental death risk than all but one cause.
Now let's return to defensive gun use (DGU). Most critics cite statistics on deaths and gun types used, or the cost to society for injuries or deaths, but ignore the benefits. HCI, ( and others ) claim defensive guns are more likely to harm the owner than deter a criminal act. They often cite statistics from the US Department Of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey, (NCVS). This study has numerous faults, but chief among them is many crimes are not reported in the NCVS and the survey does not specifically ask about DGUs. Kleck and Gertz conducted an extensive study on defensive usage of guns. The Kleck and Gertz Study On Frequency Of Defensive Gun Uses
In their study Kleck and Gertz carefully corrected mistakes in previous surveys by ensuring their sample only contained "civilian" DGUs against people and not animals. A fault common to all previous studies is respondents' reluctance to divulge data that could lead to prosecution, particularly in light of surveyors representing themselves as working for government. K & G studies eliminated cases with respondents seeking to "obscure" the data by not revealing all the details such as the type of crime being committed, if the respondent had actually confronted the criminal, fired a weapon, etc. They also eliminated police, military and professional security respondents .
Even after corrective factors eliminated almost 60% of the reported cases, Kleck and Gertz concluded there were in excess of 2.16 million DGUs per year . The K & G study found that only 1.125 percent of adults had used guns defensively an average of 1.472 times each during the five year period surveyed. In a population of almost 300 million, guns saved over 3 million individuals by the most conservative estimation. But the Kleck and Gertz study offers even more data we can use.
BASED UPON 2 MILLION DGUs PER YEAR:
1. Only 24% (480,000) reported firing their guns. This means 76% (1.52 million ) times the gun deterred crime merely by its presence.
2. Wounds occurred in less than 8% of the cases., or less than (300,000)
3. Most DGUs occurred in the home, 37% ( 740,000) vs 27% (540,000) away.
4. Property was lost in only 11% (220,000) cases. Guns successfully prevented theft in 89% of the cases or 1.74 million times.
5. In 84% (1.68 million), cases the perp displayed a weapon or attacked before the DGU. Eleven respondents reported using gun only after being injured by the attacker.
6. Only 18% (360,000) reported criminals armed with guns, but 53% (1.06 million) reported facing multiple assailants in DGU incidents.
7. Assailants had weapons other than guns 48% of the time, ( 960,000) in DGU cases. In 18% ( 360,000) of the cases the assailants were armed with guns.
From the statistics garnered by Kleck and Gertz we can conclude guns succeed in preventing crime. Defensive gun users only used guns as a last resort, often only after they were injured by their assailants. Contrary to allegations by anti-gun activists of CC gun owners turning "vigilante" and acting like "Rambo", statistics show the opposite. They shoot less, kill fewer, and cause less incidental damage than police. Guns are extremely successful in preventing theft. They succeed almost 90% of the time, most often without being fired, or the thief injured.
Guns are effective against multiple assailants. Individuals reporting DGUs faced armed assailants over half of the time, often multiple assailants. Few of us can honestly say we could take on multiple unarmed assailants, let alone armed ones, and emerge whole. Women, the elderly and the handicapped face even greater risks of physical harm.
Finally, we can conclude guns save society money - over 2 million times a year. These statistics are based upon rigidly screened, reported DGUs. Crime data indicates unreported DGUs may well exceed 50% of reported incidents every year.
I hope these numbers help you "debunk " the fallacies and falsehoods from the next self-declared "expert" you encounter. We can win the "War Against Guns" by countering misinformation with fact. We can gain support by increasing the appeal of guns and shooting sports for recreation. We can gain adherents by proving gun safety and utility in terms all segments of society is familiar with and can relate to.
copyright 2003 by the author, all rights reserved.