In a June 2013 report issued in response to President Obama’s post-Sandy Hook executive order for “research [into] problems in firearm-related violence,” the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) observed that national surveys indicate guns are used defensively “500,000 to more than 3 million times a year.”
The report also noted that mass shootings are a rare occurrence in the U.S.
The order was issued to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and related public health entities. It was one of 23 orders Obama issued on gun violence. NAS used the book, “Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence,” to explain:
One of these executive orders, Action #14, noted that “in addition to being a law enforcement challenge, gun violence is also a serious public health issue that affects thousands of individuals, families, and communities across the Nation” (White House, 2013b). This order directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with other relevant federal agencies, to immediately begin identifying the most pressing research problems in firearm-related violence with the greatest potential for broad public health impact. Based on this directive, the CDC and the CDC Foundation3 requested that the Institute of Medicine (IOM), in collaboration with the National Research Council (NRC), identify questions that would define a public health research agenda for firearm violence prevention and intervention.
The order was followed, and one of the first observations made by the NAS was that mass shootings are rare. They wrote:
The number of public mass shootings of the type that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School accounted for a very small fraction of all firearm-related deaths. Specifically, since 1983 there have been 78 events in which 4 or more individuals were killed by a single perpetrator in 1 day in the United States, resulting in 547 victims and 476 injured persons (Bjelopera et al., 2013)
NAS posits 78 mass shootings over a period of 30 years–an average of 2.6 a year–with a total death rate of 547, which averages roughly 18 people a year. These observations are a sober and welcome reality check when contrasted with the left’s claims of “355 mass shootings” in one year.
The “355” claim was ubiquitous in 2015, but delivered with special clarity by actress Rose McGowan, who tweeted, “355 shootings this year. Well done you f**king idiots.” Mother Jones showed that McGowan overshot the number by about 351.
In contrast to the dearth of mass shootings, the NAS observed that the “Defensive use of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence.” With a caveat that the exact number of defensive gun uses is in dispute, the NAS reported:
Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million.
The NAS points to an outlying survey that only shows defensive gun uses at 108,000, but admits the “estimate of 108,000 is difficult to interpret” because of the kinds of questions asked when the survey was done.
The “500,000 to more than 3 million” figure is largely the result of the academic work of Florida State criminologist Gary Kleck. He first began publishing such figures in 1993 and, on February 17, 2015, reaffirmed that his range of defensive handgun uses continues to hold true; his work has yet to disproved with empirical evidence.
Kleck actually maintains that the minimum number of defensive gun uses a year is 760,000, which works out to roughly 2,082 defensive gun uses a day.
AWR Hawkins is the Second Amendment columnist for Breitbart News and host of “Bullets with AWR Hawkins,” a Breitbart News podcast. He is also the political analyst for Armed American Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @AWRHawkins. Reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.