The myth of the almighty gun

By News | Last updated: Apr 23, 2013 - 12:22:38 PM

What's your opinion on this article?


‘When analyzing the most reliable data available, what is most striking is that in a nation of more than 300 million guns, how rarely fifi rearms are used in selfdefense.’
Gun rights activists and the National Rifle Association quickly point to the value of guns when it comes to self-defense and a couple of home invasions stopped by handgun owners added to their arguments for more weapons in more places.


A recent study challenges the myth that having a gun thwarts crime and saves lives regularly. According to a Violence Policy Center report, which analyzed data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey, Americans should not believe the hype.  

“The idea that firearms are frequently used in self-defense is the primary argument that the gun lobby and firearms industry use to expand the carrying of fi rearms into an ever-increasing number of public spaces and even to prevent the regulation of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines,” the report notes. “Yet this argument is hollow and the assertions false. When analyzing the most reliable data available, what is most striking is that in a nation of more than 300 million guns, how rarely firearms are used in self-defense,” it concludes.

“The idea that ordinary citizens need access to extraordinary fi repower in order to adequately defend themselves against criminals has become the default argument against a federal assault weapons ban and limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines,” said Violence Policy Center executive director and study co-author Josh Sugarmann.  

The report found ordinary people with guns rarely use their weapons in a life and death situation— taking the life of the aggressor and saving themselves or someone else.

“In 2010, across the nation there were only 230 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a fi rearm reported to the FBI. That same year, there were 8,275 criminal gun homicides.  

Using these numbers, in 2010, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 36 criminal homicides,” the report revealed.

And, it noted, the ratio doesn’t account for thousands of suicides using guns, which numbered nearly 20,000, or unintentional shootings, which involved just over 600 incidents.

The numbers obviously don’t add up here.

The report says that between 2007 and 2011, in less than one percent of instances did the intended victim protect themselves using a weapon.

Over the same time period, the National Crime Victimization Survey estimated there were 29.6 million victims of attempted or completed violent crimes.

“During this same five-year period, only 235,700 of the self protective behaviors involved a firearm. Of this number, it is not known what type of fi rearm was used or whether it was fi red or not. The number may also include off-duty law enforcement officers who use their fi rearms in self-defense,” the report, Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use, said.

But not only is the standoff between the villain and the “Go Ahead Make My Day” civilian unlikely, so is the likelihood that guns will be used to protect property. In one-tenth of one percent of encounters did the targeted victim use a firearm to repel a thief or someone destroying property. Some 89.4 million attempted on completed property crimes took place between 2007 and 2011 the National Crime Victimization Survey found.

“Of this number, it is not known what type of firearm was used, whether it was fired or not, or whether the use of a gun would even be a legal response to the property crime. And that number as well may also include off-duty law enforcement officers,” the report found.

And, according to the Justice Department, an average of 232,400 guns were stolen from households from 2005 to 2010. It would stand to reason that instead of preventing crimes, guns are more likely to be stolen and then used to commit crimes.

The report also challenges numbers cited by the gun lobby as proof of the need for more guns and largely unrestricted use of gun: While the gun lobby claimed firearms were used 12.5 million times in self-defense over five years. The report counters that firearms were only used by victims or potential victims 338,700 times in five years.

About 1 in 3 fatal shootings ruled justifiable homicides were people the shooter knew in 2010. A little over half of the incidents, which were fewer than 250 instances, involved strangers.

What we know, however, is that the proliferation of guns has a major impact on the lives of Black people. In Missouri, the homicide rate for Blacks was 33.86 per 100,000, which is more than seven times the national overall homicide rate of 4.42 per 100,000. Guns are not making Black folk safer. Nationally, about 8 in 10 Black homicide victims were killed by guns, the Violence Policy Center said. These numbers don’t include those injured and maimed by guns, nor the economic impact and psychological impact on Black people.

What we need is more knowledge of who we are and how to defuse tensions, not more guns, more grief and more funerals.