How Do We Know Guns Save Lives?
I know it is the Holidays, but put on your detective hat for a second. How do we know guns save lives? We know a gun was used when the criminal was shot by the victim. Evidence is pretty obvious in that case. There is even evidence if the victim shoots and misses. Then there are the other cases where, ideally, the criminal sees that the victim is armed and stops before shots are fired. Obviously there is no physical evidence of the psychological decision to break off the attack. That explains why the self-defense statistics are inconsistent from report to report. We can’t even define what we mean by using a gun in self-defense. It doesn’t leave evidence at the crime scene. Do guns stop crime or not? Well, Sherlock, what do you think? Here are some recent examples to test you.
-In one case, a contractor was working on an empty house. A criminal walked in, picked up a crowbar, and threatened the contractor. The contractor presented his licensed handgun and the criminal fled. The police called it an attempted robbery. The contractor thinks it is a defensive gun use (DGU), even though he didn’t pull the trigger. The criminal knows exactly why he changed his mind and ran. What do you deduce?
-In another case, a store owner was struck over the head and threatened with a handgun during a robbery. The store owner pushed the thieves out of his store and locked the doors. A Good Samaritan walked by the store and saw the armed thieves beating on the store windows and doors. The Samaritan drew his own weapon and the thieves ran. Both the Samaritan and the store owner think the Good Samaritan’s firearm made the thieves break off their attack.
-A man was sitting in his car when a thief jumped in and attempted to carjack him. The driver had his legally carried gun against the carjackers head before the car moved. The police arrested the thief and charged him with attempted theft of the automobile. I call this a defensive gun use. Would you still call it a DGU if the thief had run away and not been captured? Maybe the police will ask him.
Each week I report on cases where guns are successfully used in self-defense. Sometimes shots are fired, but often the intended victims defend themselves without pulling the trigger. Stopping the attack without firing a shot is the best possible outcome, yet somehow we ignore this outcome in our crime statistics. I guess we should pass a law requiring criminals to stick around and answer research questions.
The National Research Council surveyed many crime reports that use very different definitions of defensive gun use. The results show that guns are used in self-defense between two times and ten times more often than they are used in crime. Take their data with a grain of salt. Scholars will argue about how much and how often, but the good news is law abiding gun owners continue to save lives.