NRA's "Media Misinformation" Series Pushes Systemically False Information About Gun Violence


Guns Are Used More Often For Criminal Purposes Than For Self-Defense

In a February 19 "Media Misinformation" segment, Edwards claimed that up to 2.5 million defensive gun uses occur each year and speculated that, "since the 90s however, we have seen a rise in the number of right-to-carry holders, more than 8 million. We've also seen a drop in violent crime across this country as well. So it would stand to reason that there would actually be more defensive gun uses now than there were back then, and even back then the number of defensive gun uses far outnumber the number of violent crimes."

The 2.5 million figure cited by Edwards, which comes from the 1995 research of criminologist Gary Kleck, was debunked over a decade ago and has been labeled "an enormous overestimate" by Harvard Injury Control Research Center Director David Hemenway. Indeed, Dr. Hemenway's analysis of Kleck's data proves the 2.5 million figure to be a mathematical impossibility. In a 1997 paper, Hemenway explained that:

[I]n 34% of the times a gun was used for self-defense, the offender was allegedly committing a burglary. In other words, guns were reportedly used by defenders for self-defense in approximately 845,000 burglaries. From sophisticated victimization surveys, however, we know that there were fewer than 6 million burglaries in the year of the survey and in only 22% of those cases was someone certainly at home (1.3 million burglaries). Since only 42% of U.S. households own firearms, and since victims in two thirds of the occupied dwellings were asleep, the 2.5 million figure requires us to believe that burglary victims use their guns in self-defense more than 100% of the time. [emphasis added]

Furthermore, contemporaneous data from the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization survey suggested that while over one million violent crimes were committed with guns each year, guns were used defensively 60,000 to 120,000 times.

Research conducted by Hemenway, along with the Harvard Injury Control Research Center's Deborah Azrael and Matthew Miller, that asked individuals to describe whether they had used a gun defensively and whether they had been the victim of a crime involving a gun reached a similar conclusion, finding that "[g]uns are used to threaten and intimidate far more often than they are used in self defense. Most self reported self defense gun uses may well be illegal and against the interests of society."  

The most recent data from FBI Uniform Crime Reports found that in 2010, for every single justifiable homicide by a civilian using a firearm there were over 37 criminal firearm homicides. In the same year, the Centers for Disease Control, which has more complete data on gun violence than the FBI, found that gun homicide outpaced "legal intervention" with a firearm by a 32-to-1 ratio.

The second claim made by Edwards - that more permissive laws concerning the carrying of guns in public are linked to an ongoing drop in violent crime - is based on the discredited research of gun advocate John Lott. The research contained within Lott's book, "More Guns Less Crime," that linked concealed carry to lower crime rates is "without credible statistical support" according to an analysis published in the Stanford Law Review by Ian Ayres and John J. Donohue III. Ayres and Donohue found that correcting coding errors in Lott's "More Guns Less Crime" hypothesis reversed the results.

The volatility of Lott's statistical model has also been criticized by Hemenway, who has noted that "results for the other control variables do not make sense." For example, under Lott's design, poverty is significantly positively associated with lower crime rates and "a decrease of 1 percentage point in the percentage of the population that is black, female, and aged forty to forty-nine is associated with a 59 percent decrease in homicide":

Many of the results for the other control variables do not make sense. For example, the results show both that increasing the rate of unemployment and reducing income will significantly reduce the rate of violent crime. The results indicate that reducing the number of middle-aged and elderly black women (who are rarely either perpetrators or victims of murder) will substantially reduce homicide rates. Indeed, according to the results, a decrease of 1 percentage point in the percentage of the population that is black, female, and aged forty to forty-nine is associated with a 59 percent decrease in homicide (and a 74 percent increase in rape). [Hemenway, Private Guns Public Health, pg. 244]

Ayres, Donohue and others have found that permissive laws concerning the carrying of guns in public are actually linked to an increase in aggravated assaults rather than a reduction in crime.  

The United States Has Leading Gun Homicide Rate Among Other High-Income Nations

On January 10, Edwards claimed that Colbert Report host Stephen Colbert was wrong to say that the United States has the highest firearm homicide rate among industrialized countries. Instead, Edwards claimed that the United States ranks 28th in the world in firearm homicide.

Edwards, however, was relying on a chart ranking firearm homicides that included all countries that submitted data for the 2007 Small Arms Survey, not just industrialized countries. Using that data, the United States is ranked 28th alongside countries that do not have strong governmental institutions or even an actual rule of law. For example, Edwards' claim compares the United States to Zimbabwe, which is one of the poorest nations on earth.

A much more appropriate comparison is between the United States and other high-income nations, which allows countries with similar standards or living but different firearms policies to be studied. Most other high-income nations have enacted strong gun violence prevention measures. 

One such 2003 study that compared the United States to high-income nations found that the United States had a firearm homicide rate that was 19.5 times higher than the average of 22 other countries studied. According to the findings, "Thus, among these 23 countries [studied], 80% of all firearm deaths occurred in the United States in 2003, 86% of all women killed by firearms were US women, and 87% of all children aged 0 to 14 killed by firearms were US children."

A Gun In The Home Typically Increases Risk For The Occupants

During a February 19 segment, Edwards again cited the discredited 2.5 million defensive gun violence figure - this time falsely attributing the statistic to a government study conducted during the Clinton administration - in a failed attempt to rebut an accurate claim in Mother Jones magazine that "[o]wning a gun has been linked to higher risks of homicide, suicide, and accidental death by gun."  

Mother Jones accurately linked to research in peer reviewed journals demonstrating that owning a gun increases the risks of homicide, suicide, and gun accidents. The article also cited research by A.L. Kellermann that examined firearm incidents where the gun used was known to be stored in the home. That research found a gun in the home was used in assaults or murders, suicides and accidents more frequently than in justifiable homicides. [Private Guns Public Health, pg. 80]

The research cited by Mother Jones comports with a summary of research by Hemenway on the risks involved with keeping a gun in the home:

Guns in the home increase the risk of unintentional firearm injury, suicide, and homicide. For example, a recent case-control study found that a gun in the home is a large risk factor for accidental firearm fatality (Wiebe 2003a). All nine case-control studies of guns and suicide in the United States found that a gun in the home is a significant and substantial risk factor for suicide ... Two case-control studies found that a gun in the home doubled the relative risk for homicide (Kellermann et al. 1993; Cummings, Koepsell et al. 1997). Kellermann and coauthors (1993) found that almost all of the higher risk for homicide resulted from a greater risk of homicide by a family member or close acquaintance; no protective livesaving benefit was found for gun ownership, even in the homicide cases involving forced entry. [Private Guns Public Health, pg. 81] 

By Edwards' logic, Mother Jones erred by comparing fatal homicides, suicides and accidents to solely justifiable homicides without taking into account instances where a gun was used in self-defense without the occurrence of death.

But research that does take into account non-fatal firearm injuries in the home  - both gun injuries as a result of crime and defensive gun uses that do not result in a death - similarly indicates the wide gulf between criminal firearm use and legitimate self-defense. According to Hemenway, a "study of all gunshot injuries [occurring in a residence] in Galveston, Texas, over a three-year period found only two incidents that were related to residential burglary or robbery. In one, the homeowner was shot and killed by a burglar; in the other, the homeowner shot the burglar. During the same interval, guns in the home were involved in the death and injury of more than one hundred residents, family members, friends or acquaintances." A study conducted between 1992 and 1994 found that just 13 of 626 fatal and non-fatal shootings that occurred in households across three cities were acts of self-defense. [Private Guns Public Health, pg. 80]

Where More Guns Are Owned, More Gun Homicides Occur

On February 7, Edwards compared the gun homicide rates in Houston, Texas, to Chicago, Illinois, to deny that there is a link between firearm availability and gun homicide. By Edward's logic the fact that Houston has more firearms availability and a lower gun homicide rate compared to Chicago means that there is no link between access to firearms and homicide.

Edwards' comparison of two cities - which incidentally both have firearm homicide rates that are higher than the national average - is anecdotal and does little to disprove actual scientific inquiry into gun ownership rates and firearm homicide.

According to a survey of research by Hemenway, "Case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the U.S., where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide." Economist Mark Duggan reached a similar conclusion in a 2001 study finding that "changes in homicide and gun ownership are significantly positively related."

A comparison between firearm ownership and homicide across industrialized nations reached the same result. According to the Firearm and Injury Center at the University of Pennsylvania, "The correlation between firearm availability and rates of homicide is consistent across high-income industrialized nations: where there are more firearms, there are higher rates of homicide overall. The U.S. has the highest rates of both firearm homicide and private firearm ownership."

The Violence Policy Center recently compared gun death - homicides, suicides, and accidents - to strength of state gun laws and found that those states with the weakest gun laws typically had higher rates of gun death:

[Violence Policy Center, accessed 2/25/13]

A Wide Body Of Research Links Firearm Availability To Suicide

On February 19, Edwards claimed that "we know that the prevalence of firearms does not always indicate increase in suicides" before telling his audience, "don't think that it's going to be possible for you to suicide proof your home." In fact, numerous studies have found a link between firearm ownership levels and suicide. But contrary to Edwards' suggestion that you cannot "suicide proof your home," the restriction of access to a firearm by a troubled individual is considered by Hemenway to be more effective in preventing suicide compared to "almost any other single suicide-prevention policy."

New York Times graphic that compared gun ownership to gun suicide across states showed that states with more guns had more suicides per capita:

[The New York Times, accessed 2/25/13]

This conclusion was also reached in a 2007 study by Hemenway and others that "US residents of all ages and both sexes are more likely to die from suicide when they live in areas where more households contain firearms. A positive and significant association exists between levels of household firearm ownership and rates of firearm and overall suicide."

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Guns
Cam Edwards, John Lott
Guns, National Rifle Association
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