Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Pew Poll Supports High levels of Defensive Gun Use (needs work)

The number of defensive gun uses (dgu) in the United States is difficult to measure. Surveys which ask about defensive gun uses have routinely shown numbers between 500,000 and 3 million per year.  A survey, specifically designed to determine dgu in the U.S., the National Self Defense Survey, (NSDS) found about 2.5 million dgu per year in 1993.

The National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS), shows smaller numbers, about 80,000 per year. The NCVS does not ask about defensive gun uses, but depends on victims volunteering the information.

Numerous other polls have found similar numbers to what the NSDS found.  These include three large surveys done by the Center for Disease Control shortly after the NSDS. The CDC results were only found recently, after being buried by the CDC for twenty years.

A survey done by detractors of the NSDS found similar numbers of defensive gun uses. The detractors then attempted to discredit their own survey. Police Foundation survey (Cook and Ludwig 1996; 1997).

A recent Pew poll supports large numbers of defensive gun uses (dgu) each year.  It also shows large numbers of people who report they have been shot.

In the Pew poll, seven percent of all adults in the poll say they have defended themselves, family, or possessions with a gun by firing it or threatening to fire it. Three percent of people say they have been shot.

Seventeen percent of self identified gun owners say they have used guns defensively by that definition.

Nine percent of people who say they used to own a gun say they used one for defense as defined in the poll. From pewresearch.org:
Roughly one-in-seven adults who own or have owned a gun (15%) say they have fired or threatened to fire a gun to defend themselves, their family or their possessions.
One percent of people who say they have never owned a gun say they used one for self defense in that way.

The Pew question could be both more inclusive and specific. It leaves out defense of non-family.  It eliminates uses where the defender did not shoot or threaten to shoot the gun. In most defensive gun uses, the gun is never fired.  Many users never threaten to fire their gun.

The number of adults in 2017 was 248 million.  Seven percent of 248 million is 17.36 million adults who say they used a gun defensively, sometime in their life.

If we use 20 years as typical of what adults may remember, that would be 868 thousand dgu a year. If we use 35 years as the average, it would be 496 thousand dgu per year. The average age of a person in the U.S. is 37.

It is hard to know what percentage of incidents may be forgotten, or how many adults might have used a gun defensively more than once.  The poll does not measure how many adults would give a false answer.

The Pew poll question would have been better if it were time limited. It would have been better to have more questions that helped to verify the defensive uses.

Those steps were taken in  the National Self Defense Survey (NSDS) done by Dr. Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz. The NSDS was done in 1993 and published in 1995.

Critics have attacked the NSDS numbers as inaccurate. Professor Kleck has answered the attacks and defended the NSDS numbers .

The recent poll done by Pew is not as large, nor as detailed as the NSDS. Its results are compatible with the NSDS results.

One criticism of the NSDS results is that the number of killed or wounded attackers, extrapolated from the poll results, is larger than the number seen in hospitals.   In the Kleck and Gertz survey, about 8% of those who reported a defensive gun use said they thought they had wounded or killed the person they were shooting at (about 20 respondents).

The CDC recorded 116,000 non-fatal firearm injuries in 2016. These are firearm injuries where the injury was recorded at a medical facility.

A criticism of the NSDS is the small number of defenders who thought they had wounded or killed the person they were defending from, extrapolates to 207,000 people with firearm injuries per year.  Those critical of the NSDS argued that far fewer people than 207,000 were recorded as injuries in emergency rooms and hospitals each year.

Kleck answered this criticism by noting that he and Gertz had cautioned about extrapolation from such small numbers, based on speculation by the reporting defenders.  From Kleck:
...they specifically cautioned against using NSDS data to generate such an estimate because an estimate of defensive woundings would be based (unlike the estimates of DGU frequency in general) on a small sample (the approximately 200 respondents who reported a DGU) and because NSDS interviewers had done no detailed questioning of respondents regarding why they thought that they had wounded their adversaries.
Kleck also noted that the number of people wounded may not be well measured by reports from emergency rooms.  A previous study by Kleck showed that most people who report to emergency rooms with gunshot wounds are criminals.
the fact that the vast majority of victims of medically treated GSWs linked to alleged “assaults” are known criminals (Kleck 1997, Chapter 1).
Gunshot wounds are reported to the police. There is incentive for criminals to avoid visiting emergency rooms with minor gunshot wounds. In reading hundreds of reports of wounded criminals, virtually all attempt to convince authorities that they are the victim.

The recent Pew poll supports Kleck and the NSDS results.

In the Pew survey, conducted in April of 2017, three percent of adults say they have been shot accidentally or intentionally.  That is 7.44 million people who say they have been shot. 

Divide that number by years of experience to produce approximate numbers of the people who say they were shot per year.

If we choose 20 years as the average number of years adults remember, the number shot is over 372 thousand a year. If we use a 35 year average, it would be 212 thousand people shot per year.

Fatal firearm accidents are at an all time low, less than 500 per year.

The Pew survey can be added to the list of those that show relatively high levels of defensive gun use in the United States.

©2018 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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