Public Comment

Commentary: Accuracy in America’s Gun-Use Statistics

By Robert Clear
Friday July 06, 2007

The writers supporting guns for self-defense don’t seem to be honest, or not very good at numbers. After Richard Hourula questioned the veracity of Michael Hardesty’s claim that guns are used millions of times per year, Hardesty fell back on the claim that there are a great many documented cases of self defense over the years, and it was therefore a reasonable estimate. In short, he made up numbers to make the argument look good. Hawkins adds up violent crimes, property crimes, burglary, larceny and so on to get an estimate of 20 million crimes per year, but according to the FBI website “In the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, property crime includes the offenses of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson,” so he has double counted the property crimes. However what is more important is that “The object of the theft-type offenses is the taking of money or property, but there is no force or threat of force against the victims.” There were only about a half million crimes per year where force or a threat of force was involved, and therefore where self-defense may be involved. If there are two million successful cases of self-defense then only 20 percent of the attempted violent acts were successful. It is hard to believe violent crime would be the problem that it is if its success rate was so low. Ms. Cloudwalker claims that 20 percent of homicides are concentrated in four cities with gun control, but provides no evidence that the two facts are related. A strong clue that they are not is that her numbers are old, and that by 2003 the value was about 10 percent. Washington D.C., which is one of the four, has been undergoing gentrification, and its murder rate dropped from first in the nation in 1991 at 81 per 100,000 to a much reduced but still horrible 44 in 2003, with the vast majority of the homicides occurring in those areas which have not yet been gentrified. New York has reduced its murder rate to 7.4, which is substantially below what is expected for a city of its size, its rate of poverty, unemployment, female head of household, and racial makeup. Locally one only need compare Richmond, with a murder rate of 36.7 to Berkeley, with a murder rate of 5.7, to realize that you have to account for all the variables before trying to draw conclusions about gun control and crime rates. 

Does it matter if it is less than several millions, as long as some people are enabled to successfully defend themselves? There are about 800 accidental deaths from guns per year, and one study described at claimed that for every successful self-defense shooting there were 4 unintentional ones. Another site cited several studies showing a positive correlation to gun ownership and homicide and robbery rates. There is clearly a trade-off, so the numbers do matter. Even more to the point, there are products which aren’t generally lethal, but still provide protection (sprays and tazers). 

Are the kids in gangs any safer from all having guns? Will crooks faced with a possibly armed populace reform? Or just shoot first? In Texas a Japanese student was shot asking directions—do we really need more paranoid people with guns? 


Robert Clear is an Oakland resident.