Study: Self-Defense Gun Use Is a Myth

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On June 17, the Violence Policy Center (VPC) released a study claiming widely accepted and academically verified numbers regarding annual defensive gun uses (DGUs) are mythical figures based on “exaggerated claims” from the “gun lobby.”

In the study, VPC actually suggests gun owners are 32 times more likely to use a gun for “criminal homicide” rather than “justifiable homicide.” They seek to bolster this claim by quoting debunked Harvard researcher David Hemenway to minimize (downplay) the findings of academicians who posit DGUs at a rate as high as 2,500,000 a year.

The estimate of 2,500,000 DGUs a year is a figure derived from Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck’s work. Ironically, Hemenway has previously tried–and failed–to refute Kleck on this point. And he is not alone. Numerous other gun control proponents have fallen short in their efforts to refute Kleck’s estimate as well.

Working with his colleague Marc Gertz, Kleck emerged in the early 1990s to show that a minimum of 760,000 DGUs is a viable claim, albeit on the low end of the estimate spectrum–their work shows the “best estimate” to be closer to 2,500,000.

On February 17 of this year Kleck reaffirmed the findings and said no empirical evidence has been produced to disprove it. That necessarily includes previous claims by Hemenway which did not disprove it either, yet the VPC study used Hemenway’s work from 2004 to try to show that estimates put forward by Kleck and Gertz are “not plausible.”

VPC says the real number of DGUs per year is about “259,” or at least that is how many DGUs they admit for the year 2012.

On June 17, States United to Prevent Gun Violence commented on the VPC study by claiming defensive gun use is a “myth” perpetuated to keep legislators from passing more control. The Hill reported that States United wants “legislators in every state will stop believing the self-defense myth and look at the facts.”

Follow AWR Hawkins on Twitter: @AWRHawkins. Reach him directly at



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