The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
It’s a common refrain touted by gun rights advocates, who argue that using guns in self-defense can help save lives. But what is the actual number of defensive gun uses?
According to the Pew Research Center, 48 percent of gun owners say they own a gun mainly for protection. But for years, experts have been divided over how often people actually use guns in self-defense. The numbers range from the millions to hundreds of thousands, depending on whom you ask.
The latest data show that people use guns for self-defense only rarely. According to a Harvard University analysis of figures from the National Crime Victimization Survey, people defended themselves with a gun in nearly 0.9 percent of crimes from 2007 to 2011.
David Hemenway, who led the Harvard research, argues that the risks of owning a gun outweigh the benefits of having one in the rare case where you might need to defend yourself.
“The average person … has basically no chance in their lifetime ever to use a gun in self-defense,” he tells Here & Now‘s Robin Young. “But … every day, they have a chance to use the gun inappropriately. They have a chance, they get angry. They get scared.”
But the research spread by the gun lobby paints a drastically different picture of self-defense gun uses. One of the most commonly cited estimates of defensive gun uses, published in 1995 by criminologists Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, concluded there are between 2.2 and 2.5 million defensive gun uses annually.
One of the main criticisms of this estimate is that researchers can’t seem to find the people who are shot by civilians defending themselves because they don’t show up in hospital records.