NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

When Criminals Face Armed Resistance from Citizens

February 8, 2012

One of the most divisive issues in American politics is that of gun control.  Many who oppose gun licensing for citizens do so because they believe that guns do more harm to a populace than good.  They emphasize incidents of accidental death in which one's incompetence cost them their life.  They also argue that increased gun ownership will result in increased gun use in cases of anger or passion, say Clayton E. Cramer, a history teacher at the College of Western Idaho, and David Burnett, the director of public relations for Students for Concealed Carry.

However, such incidents have been overblown in severity and frequency, and cloud the debate over gun control.  Specifically, they draw attention away from the fact that, by prohibiting the ownership of guns by private individuals, the government would leave its citizens more vulnerable to criminal activity.  The government should recognize this fact and allow for one of the most basic of human rights: the right to self-defense.

  • The most widely known study of gun-related self-defense, by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, was completed in the 1990s and found that there were somewhere between 830,000 and 2.45 million defensive gun uses per year in the United States.
  • Another prominent study, by the National Crime Victimization Survey, found that there were about 108,000 defensive gun uses per year.
  • The National Survey of Private Ownership of Firearms, performed in 1994, arrived at a figure of 1.5 million incidents of self-defense with a firearm.

The wide variation between surveys is inherent in the type of information that is being ascertained.  People often exaggerate, forget the date of the incident or fail to classify themselves as a "victim of a violent crime" (as one survey put it), creating systemic under- and overestimates.

Nevertheless, the idea that so many confrontations end with a "positive" outcome, in which the criminal is killed, forced to flee or held for the police, makes the continued availability of guns for the populace at large an attractive option.

Source: Clayton E. Cramer and David Burnett, "Tough Targets: When Criminals Face Armed Resistance from Citizens," Cato Institute, February 2, 2012.

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