If you are a gun safety proponent you are probably already familiar with Joe Nocera’s Gun Report in the New York Times. It’s a summary of news stories from around the country detailing gun injuries and deaths. It’s…long. Every day, there are multiple reports. Crimes, for certain. Drug-related shootings, drive by shootings, random violence, mass shootings, and the ever-tragic accidental shootings, so many of which involve children. It’s a litany of heartbreak. Every day, families are losing loved ones to gun violence. Every day.
The National Rifle Association would have us believe that the solution to gun violence is more guns. We must all becomes “good guys with guns” to paraphrase NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre. Or it should be Robert A. Heinlein‘s vision of “an armed society is a polite society.” Because if we all have guns, no one would misuse them for fear of being taken out by a nearby vigilante.
According to the NRA website The Armed Citizen, “Studies indicate that firearms are used over 2 million times a year for personal protection, and that the presence of a firearm, without a shot being fired, prevents crime in many instances.” The site then goes on to give an address for sending stories of times armed civilians stopped crimes. The accompanying blog has six news stories of crimes thwarted by civilian gun use in 2013.
I am willing to concede that attempted crimes are under-reported by the news. I’m even willing to consider that the New York Times is liberal enough to not want to put a lot of resources into tracking guns-as-crime-stopper stories. I am certain there have been more than six incidents of guns used in self-defense in 2013. But in order for that number to reach the purported 2 million annual incidents, people are going to have to be quicker on the draw.
Or perhaps, the NRA needs to admit that they’re exaggerating. An April 2013 paper from the Violence Policy Center called Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use: An Analysis of Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Crime Victimization Survey Data says:
In 2010, across the nation there were only 230 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program as detailed in its Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) That same year, there were 8,275 criminal gun homicides tallied in the SHR. In 2010, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 36 criminal homicides. And this ratio, of course, does not take into account the thousands of lives ended in gun suicides (19,392) or unintentional shootings (606) that year.
The FBI definition of justifiable homicide is the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.
But what about non-lethal use of guns? The kind the NRA is touting? The same VPC paper finds that over a five-year period, the actual incidence of people using guns in self-defense is actually 235,700, amounting to less than 1% of crimes being stopped by civilian gun use.
Now, it appears that good guys with guns do stop bad guys with guns. But I think what we really are learning in this conversation about who has guns is that the fear of the bad guy with the gun overrides a lot of common sense. The fear of the bad guy with a gun is what stands in the way of technologies to lock guns so they can’t be accidentally fired. The fear of a bad guys with a gun is why it’s possible to buy a gun without a background check at a gun show. The fear of the bad guy with the gun is why people want to arm staff at schools.
When you look at the data and see how guns are being used in the U.S., you can see that the bad guy with the gun is far less of a threat to your family than suicide but that bad guy is the myth the gun industry perpetuates to keep people buying weapons for self-defense. Guns, for good guys, are like a national security blanket. They make people feel safe but they don’t actually promote safety.
Rebekah Kuschmider is a DC area mom with an over-developed sense of irreverence, socialist tendencies, a cable news addiction, and a blog. Rebekah has an undergraduate degree in theatre and Master’s in Arts Policy and Administration and a decade of experience managing arts organizations and advocating in the public health sector. Rebekah also blogs about her life, her thoughts, and her opinions at StayAtHomePundit.com.She was voted one of the Top 25 Political Mom Blogs at Circle of Moms. Her work has also been seen at Salon.com, Redbook online, and the Huffington Post.