- Hard evidence shows handguns are effective in defeating an unlawful life-threatening attack.
This is the second of a series of columns on criminological evidence of the value of gun ownership for personal defense.
The effort to disarm the American people began in earnest around the turn of this century. Even then anti-gunners saw they could only succeed by persuading the American people that guns are not effective for personal defense. In 1921, the necessity of that was proclaimed by one of the most farsighted anti-gunners, New York City Chief Magistrate William MacAdoo:
“We shall make no progress in removing this national menace [handgun ownership] until this basic fact as to the ineffectiveness of arming citizens is well and thoroughly understood by the people who foolishly buy pistols and arm themselves.”
Last month I noted that the defensive value of guns has been conclusively documented by a neutral criminologist, Florida State University’s Gary Kleck. Professor Kleck’s definitive 1988 study found: a) that each year there are more incidents of law-abiding citizens using handguns to repel crimes than of criminals using handguns to commit them (about 645,000 defensive uses per year versus about 581,000 criminal uses); and b) that victims who resist crime with a gun are much less likely to be injured than victims who submit to rapists and robbers as recommended by the Chairman of Handgun Control, Inc. (the best way to “keep you alive [is to] put up no defense-give them what they want or run.” Nelson “Pete” Shields, Guns Don’t Die, People Do, pp. 124-5).
Also last month I discussed Carl Sakal, the earliest of the modern anti-gun writers. His “evidence” against the value of guns for personal defense weapons was just opinions from some police officials to whom he had talked. Consulting police opinion is not an effective anti-gun tactic, however. Today, only the politically anti-gun chiefs express the opinions Bakal attributes to the few officers he met in the early 1960s. The title of a 1974 New York Times article says it all: “Urban Merchants Find Guns Vital and Most Police Units Now Agree.”
The anti-gun argument is that guns are useless because the robber strikes too quickly for victims to access and use guns and burglars strike when no one is at home to shoot them. To prove that victims rarely get to use a gun, anti-gunners cited mid-1960s Detroit statistics supposedly showing that criminals were rarely killed by victims. Focusing on how many criminals are killed ignores defensive gun uses that result in only wounding criminals or in capturing or driving them off without injury. Empirical data that is now available show upwards of 28 defensive gun incidents in which civilians wound criminals, or drive them off or capture them without injury, for every one in which a criminal is killed. We would not think it a full and fair test of the value of guns to the police if the only thing counted were the number of criminals police kill. So why should the defensive value of guns to civilians be judged on that basis?
But anti-gunners cannot be blamed too much for using lawful homicide data since that was almost the only available relevant data until the 1980s. What was clearly not justifiable, however, is the anti-gunners’ selection and manipulation of the data. In later columns, I shall discuss such extreme examples as the phony claim that for every one criminal killed by a victim, six times as many deaths result from handgun accidents. But now I want to focus on the defects in the work of Professor Franklin Zimring, the most scrupulous and careful of the anti-gunners.
Writing in the late 1960s, Zimring cited Detroit statistics supposedly showing that few criminals were killed by victims. But to “prove” that he had to manipulate the statistics to exclude 96.4 percent of the lawful defensive killings of violent criminals by Detroit civilians. As presented by Zimring, the statistics showed only “seven residential burglars were shot and killed by” Detroit householders during the years 1964-8 and only “three cases of the victim killing a home robber.” I add italics to ·these quotes to highlight the fact that Zimring cooked the Detroit statistics to omit the two major categories or situations in which lawful defensive homicide occurs: robbers shot by shopkeepers and homicidal attackers shot by victims (e.g., the abusive husband shot by the wife he is strangling). How big a difference does this make? Well, if he had included these categories, Zimring’s figure would have been 27 times greater-not 10, but rather 270 criminal attackers killed by victims in Detroit in the 1964-8 period.
Nor are these the only omissions Zimring had to make to “prove” that guns are ineffective defensive weapons. Zimring omitted discussing the trends over time, thereby sparing himself the difficulty of explaining the inconsistency between his views and the trend evidence. If Zimring were right, the number of lawful homicides in Detroit should have stayed relatively low, even as crime rose drastically. While drastic crime increases cause “people to foolishly arm themselves,” that would not result in many more victims killing criminals if guns aren’t effective.
But the Detroit trend data absolutely contradict Zimring’s view. In the Prohibition Era, crime had been at an all-time high in Detroit — and justifiable civilian homicide statistics were enormous, comprising more than one-quarter of all homicide there, even including auto accident fatalities. From the 1940s through the early 1960s crime was very low, and so was justifiable homicide. But dramatic crime increases during the mid-1960s caused ever more Detroiters to buy guns — and a skyrocketing of justifiable homicide. In 1966, it increased 150 percent over 1965; in 1967, it increased another 100 percent over 1966; in 1968, it increased another 40 percent over 1967; in 1969, it increased another 72 percent over 1968.
Some of this data comes from after the Zimring book I am citing was published (1969). To that extent, Zimring obviously cannot be faulted for failing to mention it. But Zimring did. elect to use lawful homicide as the basis for his claim that civilians rarely use guns in self-defense. So it is not unfair to emphasize that a full and accurate review of Detroit statistics for 1965-1971 shows that justifiable homicide increased by 1,350 percent.
Significantly, Professor Zimring was closely tied to the Chicago Police Department, many of his studies being based on their data. The importance of this is that somehow he missed the Chicago Department’s compilation of decades of lawful civilian homicide records — data far more extensive and complete than the fragmentary 1960s data from other cities Zimring claimed showed negligible numbers of lawful civilian homicides. The Chicago data parallels Detroit: lawful civilian homicides were so numerous in the 1920s that they made up almost one-third of all homicides (including auto accident deaths). Until the 1970s the number of violent felons Chicagoans lawfully killed generally equaled the number killed by Chicago police. But by the 1970s civilians were killing three times more violent felons than were police officers.
In the 1980s, anti-gun reliance on lawful civilian homicide statistics boomeranged as such data became available for other cities and on state and national bases. Based on his complete review of the data, Professor Kleck estimates that the number of violent felons lawfully killed by civilians exceeds the number killed by police each year by as much as a 5:1 ratio.
Source: Don B. Kates Jr, Petersen’s Handguns