Personal safety is one of the most-cited reasons to buy a gun. But a new study challenges the assumption that firearms are often used for self defense.
The Violence Policy Center found that a very small proportion of firearm homicides can be attributed to so-called justifiable situations. Just one gun death per every 32 criminal gun killings happened in self-defense scenarios in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. And, while gun advocates argue that they want a firearm handy in their house in case of an intruder, just 0.1 percent of the justified attacks involved property crimes.
“The [National Rifle Association] has staked its entire agenda on the claim that guns are necessary for self-defense, but this gun industry propaganda has no basis in fact,” Josh Sugarmann, the executive director of VPC, which conducted the review, said in a statement. “Guns are far more likely to be used in a homicide than in a justifiable homicide by a private citizen. In fact, a gun is far more likely to be stolen than used in self-defense.”
Of the 8,601 total homicides recorded in 2012, just 259 of those deaths were the result of a self-defense scenario, according to the study. There were 13 states in which zero justifiable firearm deaths were logged that year. That no-deaths list included states with relatively strict gun control laws as well as states where firearms are more easily accessible. From New York and New Jersey, with tighter regulation, to Idaho and Montana, known for their love of hunting and opposition to gun control, firearms don’t appear to be used with any real frequency to save one’s self or family, according to the study.
“Purchasing a gun may help enrich the firearms industry, but the facts show it is unlikely to increase your personal safety,” Sugarmann said. “In fact, in a nation of more than 300 million firearms, it is striking how rarely guns are used in self-defense.”
Of course, behind the rhetoric coming from politicians — Democrats generally support stricter gun control measures while Republicans generally aren’t sold on those policies — is a powerful and wealthy pro-gun lobby that works to ensure that Americans can maintain access to firearms. The NRA, with 4.5 million members, spends millions of dollars lobbying the federal government on gun issues each year. The group has been boosting the amount of cash it spends on lobbying since President Barack Obama took office; it spent $3.6 million in 2015, according to federal lobbying data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The NRA also donates to federal lawmakers, and gave $984,152 to candidates in 2014, primarily to Republicans, according to CRP data.
The VCP study was funded by the Herb Block Foundation, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that focuses on prejudice and poverty. The Joyce Foundation, a Chicago-based nonprofit that focuses at least in part on anti-gun violence campaigns, also provided funding.