Crime Issues

Myth No. 3: Guns Are Of Little Help In Defending Criminals

Over the years, police and other experts have changed their recommendations about how to deal with criminals. In the early and middle 1970s, they advised cooperating with robbers and rapists to minimize chances of personal injury. Today, some who gave that advice tacitly admit that it was misguided. They now urge resistance in selected instances, especially for rape victims. Studies show that robbery and rape victims who resist with a gun are only half as likely to suffer injuries as those who put up no defense.28

Why Guns Deter Criminals

Advocates of gun control have paid for several studies, hoping to prove that guns are not useful for self-defense. But every study has shown the opposite: Handguns are used at least as often in repelling crimes as in committing them and are particularly successful as weapons of defense.29 This is one reason why 88 percent of the nation's command-rank police officials disagree with the statement, " The banning of private ownership of firearms will result in fewer crimes from firearms."30

In the 1960s a New York-based antigun group printed signs for its members to post on their homes, "THERE ARE NO GUNS IN THIS HOUSE." But the signs came down and the organization withered after a large number of those homes were robbed or burglarized.31 On the other hand, during a 1974 police strike in Albuquerque, N. M., armed citizens patrolled the streets - and felonies dropped sharply.32

Americans use firearms for protection an estimated one million times each year. Ninety-eight percent of the time, they simply brandish the weapon or fire a warning shot.33 But not always34

  • Each year, gun-wielding citizens kill an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 criminals in self-defense, three times the number killed by police.

  • They wound another 9,000 to 17,000 criminals each year.

" Criminals are three times more likely to be killed by their victims than by the police."

Criminals may not read statistical studies, but they are generally aware of the large number of firearms in existence and of the fact that law-abiding citizens own most of them. Although violent crime and total crime reported to the police is much higher in the United States than in Western Europe, U.S. burglary rates are about the same, or lower, probably because of the deterrent effect of civilian firearms.35 Burglars say they spend an average of two hours "casing" a house to establish that no one is at home.36 They avoid late-night burglaries because " that's the way to get shot."37 Interviews with convicted felons are especially revealing:38

  • As Figure II shows, a survey of 1,874 felons in 10 states found that most worry more about meeting an armed victim than about running into the police.

  • 42 percent reported they had encountered a victim armed with a gun, and 38 percent had been scared off, shot at, wounded or captured by an armed victim.

  • A majority agreed that " a store owner who is known to keep a gun on the premises is not going to get robbed very often."

Adverse Results are Rare.

Despite stories of gun owners who mistake family members for intruders and shoot them, and of criminals harming victims with the victims' guns, the fact is that defending oneself with a firearm generally is safer than the alternatives:39
  • The accidental shooting of an innocent person mistaken for an intruder occurs in fewer than 30 fatal firearm incidents a year, about 2 percent of all fatal firearms incidents.

  • At a maximum, criminals take a gun away from armed victims only 1 percent of the time (while 10 percent of police who are shot are shot with their own guns).

  • Interestingly, 70 percent of defensive gun uses are against criminals who do not have a gun.

A nationwide comparative study conducted by Don B. Kates, Jr., at the St. Louis University School of Law found that armed citizens were quite responsible in using handguns.40 The vast majority of people are not violent and use firearms only as a last resort. When they do use them, firearms can be effective:41

" Defending oneself with a firearm generally is safer than the alternatives."

  • As noted above, private citizens kill about three times as many criminals as do law enforcement officials.

  • And although only 2 percent of those involved in civilian shootings are misidentified, 11 percent of individuals involved in police shootings were later found to be innocents misidentified as criminals.

Of course, police must enter situations in which they are not personally involved, while the private citizen is likely to be under attack and unlikely to mistake the target, so there is a greater likelihood that police might make a misidentification.

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