Are You Really 32 Times More Likely to be Killed by Your Own Gun?

Whenever there’s a mass shooting, the gun grabbers come out in force. One of their favorite memes is the claim you’re 32 times more likely to die from your own gun than you are to kill a bad guy. I’ve also seen the number claimed as 38 times more likely, and 42 times more likely. Nanny groups have trouble keeping their numbers straight.

Fortunately for them, it’s easy to spew a lie in one sentence. Unfortunately for us, it can take several paragraphs to disprove it. Fortunately for them, it is impossible to come up with an exact number of times guns are used for defense. Fortunately for us, we can still rip apart their claims in a short article like this.

Let’s start with some baseline numbers. In the U.S. in 2010, (according to the Wikipedia) there were 31,513 deaths by firearms. 19,308 were suicide, 11,015 were homicides and 600 were accidents.

Gun grabbers love the term “gun deaths,” a phrase that should pin the needle on your bullshit meter. 61% of all gun deaths are suicides. There are a variety of ways people can kill themselves, and they’re likely to choose the one closest at hand. In some instances the proximity of a gun makes it easy for someone who might have refrained if they had to use other means, but the idea that guns increase the suicide rate is easily dispelled. On a list the suicide rate by country, the US is in the fiftieth place. Many of the countries higher on the list heavily restrict or even prohibit guns.

So, we’ve just removed 61% of their number, but that still leaves us with a pretty high ratio of bad guys killed to good guys killed. Let’s break it down further.

It’s easy to count things like traffic accidents. We’re required by law to report them, and we need a police report to collect any insurance. As a result, we have very accurate numbers on vehicle accidents.

Counting things like Defensive Gun Uses (DGUs) is much more difficult. When a good guy uses a gun to chase away a bad guy, there’s no need to call the police – the situation is over. In fact, there is a very strong incentive to avoid involving the police. (“Hello, police? I just threatened someone with a gun!”) This makes getting a precise number of DGUs impossible, but there have many studies that give us a good range. On the low end, they estimate 800,000 DGUs per year. On the high end, 2.5 million.

A few studies have reported absurdly low numbers. Most of them were conducted by the government or anti-gun groups. I’ve seen them as low as 67,000, although most are around 100k.

There are two common methods of concocting low numbers. One is by counting police reports and/or news reports. This, of course, ignores the vast majority who don’t notify the cops or the media after they’ve defended themselves.

The other method is surveys, usually by phone, that are not anonymous. “Hi, this is the government calling. We know who you are. Please tell us if you’ve defended yourself with a gun.”

My completely unscientific gut feeling is that the 2.5 million number is too high. That comes out to about 1% of the population defending themselves with a gun, year after year after year. 100k DGUs, in a country of 290 – 315 million people (depending on when the survey was done) is absurdly low. It’s reasonable to conclude the real number is somewhere in the middle.

But here’s the often overlooked key statistic – in nearly all DGUs (85% – 92%, depending on the study) the gun is never fired. Merely brandishing it solves the problem. And when the gun is fired, the aggressor is often not hit, or is merely wounded. Killing a criminal during a DGU is extremely rare.

And this is how the gun grabbers generate their numbers. They completely ignore DGUs unless the defender kills the attacker. Then they include suicides, and wall-la! They’ve got a scary number that has no relation to reality.

Even if we go with the absurdly low numbers, their argument falls apart. If the number is, say, 100k, that’s tens of thousands of murders, tens of thousands of rapes, tens of thousands of assaults, and tens of thousands of robberies that never happened. Compare that to eleven thousand homicides (go ahead and toss in six hundred accidents, if you like), and the math is pretty simple – guns save far, far more lives than they take.

Nannies love the “for the children” argument. “Seven children are killed by guns every day!” But while most of us define children as people 13 and under, gun grabbers use their own special nanny definitions. They define everyone under 21 as a child. Seventeen-year-olds are children. Eighteen-year-olds are children. Nineteen-year-olds are children. Twenty-year-olds are children. Won’t someone think of the childreeeeeennnnnnn.

I seldom use the words “always” or “never,” because it only takes one exception to be wrong. Nannies always lie. I have never seen an exception. It doesn’t matter if they’re going after guns, food, tobacco, vehicles, weed, lifestyles or anything else. Any numbers they quote are lies. Sometimes they just make up the numbers. Other times they use tricks like the one we’re discussing. No matter what their technique, if a nanny quotes a number, it’s almost always a lie; a lie of omission, a lie of commission, or a lie of pure imagination.

“You’re 34 times more likely to die from a gun in your house than to kill an intruder.” Change “kill” to “defend yourself from” and their dishonestly becomes obvious and undeniable.

Additional Information:

A Reason article on DGU studies.

A chart of some older DGU studies, with their conclusions.

The link between Firearms, Crime and Gun Control.

3 Comment(s)

  1. Well, that’s the thing about gun deaths, isn’t it? As my old daddy used ta say (I think he was quoting Mark Twain), “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”

    My own take on anybody’s statistics, either for or against gun control, is quite simple:

    “73.859% of all statistics are made up on the spot.”

    The nice thing about it is that when you post it on somebody’s blog, it doesn’t give a hint as to whether you agree or disagree with their positions. It’s nice and safe, and just a wee bit humorous.

    Robyn Jane | Jul 28, 2015 | Reply

  2. They used to do something similar with the homeless numbers. Back around 1990 it had gotten to the point where claims were being made that there were 25,000,000 homeless in the country. That’s about 1 in 10. I realized that number HAD to be BS, as you’d have been tripping over the homeless all the time.

    Then US News and World Report did a lengthy article. It seems that the government commissioned two universities to actually determine the number of homeless. The study with the larger of the two numbers physically counted people living on the streets and in shelters in our 50 largest cities. They then did something similar with 50 other cities of various sizes and extrapolated from that (find 2 homeless in a city of 50,000, and we’ve got 100 cities of that size, so there’s probably 200 homeless people scattered around the country in cities of that size, kind of thing). Their total: 400,000 homeless nationwide.

    So where were the huge estimates coming from? The definition. USN&WR revealed that there was one group who defined homeless as “less than 350 sq ft of living space per person”. I lived alone in a $760/month 650 square foot one bedroom luxury apartment at the time. All the couples where were my neighbors would have been quite surprised to find out that they were paying $760/month to be homeless. There was another group that considered you homeless if your domicile didn’t include a private bathroom. So if you have to leave your private area to use the toilette or shower (like you do in a lot of college dorms), you were homeless.

    See, they just define the problem to be what they want it to be, run their numbers, and then declare that “problem X is this HUGE”, without bothering to tell you exactly HOW they define “problem X”.

    MPH | Feb 18, 2016 | Reply

  3. Thanks MPH, I didn’t know their exact methods – I just knew the numbers were bullshit.

    One of the problems with bullshit numbers is it makes people ignore the problem. “You claim there are six million homeless, but since I know that’s BS, I’ve lost interest.” And the 200k homeless (a made up number, but a reasonable one, I think) get ignored.

    Hittman | Feb 18, 2016 | Reply

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