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How often do amateurs with guns stop crime?

How often are guns used to prevent someone from becoming a victim of a crime? That’s a difficult question to answer due to the fact that different studies use different definitions of what it means to stop a crime.

“Over the past decade, researchers have attempted to measure the prevalence of defensive gun use in the population. This measurement problem has proved to be quite complex, with some estimates suggesting just over 100,000 defensive gun uses per year and others suggesting 2.5 million or more defensive gun uses per year.

A primary cause of this uncertainty is the disagreement over the definition of defensive gun use—in particular, whether it should be defined as a response to victimization or as a means to prevent victimization from occurring in the first place.”

However, it’s likely that the higher number is correct, “At least 19 other surveys have resulted in estimated numbers of defensive gun uses that are similar (i.e., statistically indistinguishable) to the results founds by Kleck and Gertz [the 2.5 million number]. No other surveys have found numbers consistent with the NCVS [the 100,000 number].”

What makes the numbers so different? It’s in what questions were asked, “To elicit defensive gun use incidents, the survey first assesses whether the respondent has been the victim of particular classes of crime—rape, assault, burglary, personal and household larceny, or car theft—during the past six months, and then asks several follow-up questions about self-defense.” Basically they asked very narrow questions and confined it to six months instead of a year.

Though that’s a large disparity I still think it’s telling that the conservative number is still over 100,000 times a year. Even if we just accept that low number it’s still showing that amateurs with guns are protecting people from crime. If we accept the 2.5 million number that’s pretty incredible. It also shows that people legally carrying firearms aren’t running around like the wild west just shooting people at the drop of a hat and that part of the reason that’s the case is that they don’t have to because the criminals give up rather than push the issue.


Gun violence study cover

How many times each year do civilians use firearms defensively? The answers provided to this seemingly simple question have been confusing. Consider the findings from two of the most widely cited studies in the field: McDowall et al. (1998), using the data from 1992 and 1994 waves of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), found roughly 116,000 defensive gun uses per year, and Kleck and Gertz (1995), using data from the 1993 National Self-Defense Survey (NSDS), found around 2.5 million defensive gun

Source: 5 The Use of Firearms to Defend Against Criminals | Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review | The National Academies Press

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