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Jewish World Review Sept. 1, 2005/ 27 Av, 5765

Larry Elder

Larry Elder
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Consumer Reports

How often do Americans use guns for defensive purposes? | Forty-six-year-old Joyce Cordoba stood behind the deli counter while working at a Wal-Mart in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Suddenly, her ex-husband — against whom Ms. Cordoba had a restraining order — showed up, jumped over the deli counter, and began stabbing Ms. Cordoba. Due Moore, a 72-year-old Wal-Mart customer, witnessed the violent attack. Moore, legally permitted to carry a concealed weapon, pulled out his gun, and shot and killed the ex-husband. Ms. Cordoba survived the brutal attack and is recovering from her wounds.

This raises a question. How often do Americans use guns for defensive purposes? We know that in 2003, 12,548 people died through non-suicide gun violence, including homicides, accidents and cases of undetermined intent.

UCLA professor emeritus James Q. Wilson, a respected expert on crime, police practices and guns, says, "We know from Census Bureau surveys that something beyond a hundred thousand uses of guns for self-defense occur every year. We know from smaller surveys of a commercial nature that the number may be as high as two-and-a-half or three million. We don't know what the right number is, but whatever the right number is, it's not a trivial number."

Criminologist and researcher Gary Kleck, using his own commissioned phone surveys and number extrapolation, estimates that 2.5 million Americans use guns for defensive purposes each year. He further found that of those who had used guns defensively, one in six believed someone would have been dead if they had not resorted to their defensive use of firearms. That corresponds to approximately 400,000 of Kleck's estimated 2.5 million defensive gun uses. Kleck points out that if only one-tenth of the people were right about saving a life, the number of people saved annually by guns would still be at least 40,000.

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The Department of Justice's own National Institute of Justice (NIJ) study titled "Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms," estimated that 1.5 million Americans use guns for defensive purposes every year. Although the government's figure estimated a million fewer people defensively using guns, the NIJ called their figure "directly comparable" to Kleck's, noting that "it is statistically plausible that the difference is due to sampling error." Furthermore, the NIJ reported that half of their respondents who said they used a gun defensively also admitted having done so multiple times a year — making the number of estimated uses of self-defense with a gun 4.7 million times annually.

Former assistant district attorney and firearms expert David Kopel writes, ". . . [W]hen a robbery victim does not defend himself, the robber succeeds 88 percent of the time, and the victim is injured 25 percent of the time. When a victim resists with a gun, the robbery success rate falls to 30 percent, and the victim injury rate falls to 17 percent. No other response to a robbery — from drawing a knife to shouting for help to fleeing — produces such low rates of victim injury and robbery success."

What do "gun control activists" say?

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence's website displays this oft-quoted "fact": "The risk of homicide in the home is three times greater in households with guns." Their web site fails to mention that Dr. Arthur Kellermann, the "expert" who came up with that figure, later backpedaled after others discredited his studies for failing to follow standard scientific procedures. According to The Wall Street Journal, Dr. Kellermann now concedes, "A gun can be used to scare away an intruder without a shot being fired," admitting that he failed to include such events in his original study. "Simply keeping a gun in the home," Kellermann says, "may deter some criminals who fear confronting an armed homeowner." He adds, "It is possible that reverse causation accounted for some of the association we observed between gun ownership and homicide — i.e., in a limited number of cases, people may have acquired a gun in response to a specific threat."

"More Guns, Less Crime" author John Lott points out that, in general, our mainstream media fails to inform the public about defensive uses of guns. "Hardly a day seems to go by," writes Lott, "without national news coverage of yet another shooting. Yet when was the last time you heard a story on the national evening news about a citizen saving a life with a gun? . . . An innocent person's murder is more newsworthy than when a victim brandishes a gun and an attacker runs away with no crime committed. . . . [B]ad events provide emotionally gripping pictures. Yet covering only the bad events creates the impression that guns only cost lives."

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Americans, in part due to mainstream media's anti-gun bias, dramatically underestimate the defensive uses of guns. Some, after using a gun for self-defense, fear that the police may charge them for violating some law or ordinance about firearm possession and use. So many Americans simply do not tell the authorities.

A gunned-down bleeding guy creates news. A man who spared his family by brandishing a handgun, well, that's just water-cooler chat.

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JWR contributor Larry Elder is the author of, most recently, "Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies and the Special Interests That Divide America." (Proceeds from sales help fund JWR) Let him know what you think of his column by clicking here.

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