Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Defensive Gun Ownership and Gun Control

Let me begin by stating that self-defense is (and should be) a personal decision; thus, a law-abiding citizen who is responsible and sufficiently trained (1) with a firearm should have the right to use a firearm to protect him or herself from a violent attacker. (Note: in Illinois, this right is denied in the areas where most violent crimes are committed. (2)) As Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice Gary Kleck (2006) states: “At least 77% of all violent crimes are committed in public places” (p. 191). 

Consider a few of the many significant conclusions deduced by Kleck’s extensive research at Florida State University: “The most fundamental flaw in advocacy of gun control as violence reduction is not that gun laws could not disarm anyone, but rather that reducing gun levels would not necessarily produce any net violence-reducing impact. The rationale for gun control on which supporters have relied for decades relies on an unduly simplified conception of the role of weaponry in human violence… [T]he use of guns by crime victims to defend themselves is commonplace and effective both in preventing completion of the crime and in preventing injury to the victim (p.383).   

“The rationale for gun control, of course, includes the assumption that the availability of guns has a significant net positive effect on violence rates… [T]his assumption is not supported by the weight of the best available evidence…” (p. 351). Gun control laws do not prevent criminals from committing crimes. They do, however, make law-abiding citizens vulnerable to violent attacks.

Gun control laws also prohibit peoples’ self-reliance and self-defense; they can cost the lives of innocent victims, and they often do. “[It is a fact], police officers rarely disrupt violent crimes or burglaries in progress; even the most professional and efficient urban police forces rarely can reach the scene of a crime soon enough to catch the criminal ‘in the act’” (p. 168).

Kleck contends: “The benefit of defensive gun ownership that would parallel to innocent lives lost to guns would be innocent lives saved by defensive use of guns” (p. 178)… “[In addition], prohibitionist policies [such as gun control laws] could facilitate victimization because legal restrictions would almost certainly be evaded more by aggressors than non-aggressors, causing a shift in gun distribution that favored the former over the latter” (p. 185).

So how can we make it difficult for felons to obtain guns? “[Since] criminal gun users most commonly get their guns by buying them from friends and other non-dealer sources [on the streets or through theft]…, if gun regulation is to succeed in controlling gun violence, it will have to effectively restrict non-dealer acquisitions and, independent of controls over acquisition of guns, deter possession and use of guns by the small high-risk subset of owners most likely to use guns for criminal purposes [which is impossible]” (pp. 94-95).

I have often stated that I wish we lived in a rational and peaceful world, one without greed, theft and enmity, but we don’t. The fact that there are an estimated 270 - 300 million firearms already in circulation make it impossible for gun control laws to have any effect on reducing violent crimes. What we can do perhaps instead of legislating more gun control laws (and beyond the scope of this essay) is focus upon and address the causes of violent crimes: mental illness, racism, economic injustice, poverty, unemployment, gang activity, drug trafficking, inefficient law enforcement in high-crime areas and demographic changes...

Until that happens, “The best policy goal to pursue may be to shift the distribution of gun possession as far as possible in the direction of likely aggressors being disarmed, with as few prospective victims as possible being disarmed. To disarm non-criminals [through more gun control laws] in the hope that this might indirectly help reduce access to guns among criminals is a very high-stakes gamble, and the risks will not be reduced by pretending that crime victims rarely use guns for self-defense” (p. 186).

(1) In Illinois, the required 16 hours of training in a conceal carry curriculum involves Firearm Safety, Understanding Pistol Components and Operation, Fundamentals of Aiming & Firing, Proper Breathing Techniques when Firing a Pistol, Loading & Firing a Pistol, Role-playing Stressful Self-Defense Scenarios that Assimilate Fear and Confusion, Unloading/Reloading a Pistol, Loading and Firing a Pistol under Stress, Drawing from a Holster, Clearing Common Pistol Stoppages, Dry-Fire & Live-Fire Practice, Home Self-Defense Strategies, Self-Defense Strategies Outside of the Home, Understanding the Defensive Use & Consequences of Deadly Force, Confronting an Intruder or Attacker, the Emotional & Legal After Effects of Shooting an Assailant, Understanding State & Federal Laws Governing the Carry & Use of Firearms, Pistol Maintenance and Storage… Continual training after completion of the 16 required hours is imperative.

(2) Illinois concealed carry is illegal in schools, colleges, universities, health care facilities, public transportation, airports, alcohol establishments, museums, zoos, amusement parks, stadiums, gaming facilities, park district properties, playgrounds, athletic areas, forest preserves, municipal-controlled areas, government-sponsored gatherings, and government buildings, to name just a few areas… (Public Act 098-0063, Section 65).

Kleck, G. (2006). Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control (3rd ed.). New Brunswick: Aldine Transaction.


  1. Have you seen the documentary movie "The Interruptors?" It depicts life and violence in the most dangerous neighborhoods of Chicago. At one point, the main figure, Ameena Matthews, makes a point that no adult in her violent neighborhood is victimized because of their lack of a gun. Virtually any adult or teenager can get a fire arm (albeit illegally) and often the knowledge that their "target" is also armed gives an assailant no pause. The "average" murder in Chicago is a gang dispute over drug territory, not a mugger gunning an old lady to steal her purse. Any Chicago police officer will confirm this.

    To say people in the dangerous areas "unarmed" and unable to protect themselves is true on paper, but not in reality. Also, many victims in the areas are children and minors, whom we cannot reasonably arm. Indeed, the overwhelming violence has so inured these people that violent death (or incarceration for killing someone) at an early age is simply an accepted reality. I cannot see how a few more legal guns would change the deep structural problems of these areas.

    I'd also remind you that violent crime is very much unequally distributed in our society. No resident of Glencoe or Wilmette lives in fear of violent crime or violent attack. Decades can pass between assaults and murders in these towns, and these are virtually always closer to the case of a man who comes who to find his wife being unfaithful and lashes out. There are no gang homicides outside New Trier High School. Could something happen? Of course. But arming yourself to visit Walgreens in Schaumburg is overkill, statistically (and literally) speaking.

  2. Good Morning Richard,

    "No resident of Glencoe or Wilmette lives in fear of violent crime or violent attack":

    It is true more victims and perpetrators of violent crimes occur in economically-impoverished areas. I won't assume, however, that all economically-privileged people from the North Shore do not "fear violent crime or violent attacks." Given the plethora of opulence found in these white-collar villages, I assume that most residents of Glencoe and Wilmette fear becoming victims of burglaries and theft. Therefore, I assume many of them own legal weapons for self-defense. Whether they legally conceal carry while shopping at Walgreens in Schaumburg is their right of choice.

  3. I'v been investigating Gary Kleck, and I am utterly convinced his statistics are deeply compromised. Specifically, his claim that guns are used "defensively" MAY BE TRUE, but is based on very soft numbers - often simply self-reports by gun owners to surveys, not verifiable records. (In other words, there are precious few examples of police reports after someone has had to use a gun to protect themselves or ER admissions when a potential criminal has been wounded by someone using a gun in self-defense.)

    1. Richard,
      Tell me what you think after you read his book.

  4. My source is again David Hemenway. Here's a brief review of his book "Private Guns, Public Health ." Please note, Hemenways work is in the field of public health and safety - he brings a unique, non-advocacy perspective. He is trying to save lives based on data; Kleck (I sincerely believe ) is trying find facts to save the guns.

    "The public health community began researching gun violence about two decades ago, a late entrant in a field traditionally occupied by criminologists. David Hemenway . . . has been a leader in this effort. The book provides an account of the nature of the problem of gun violence and views about what can be done to mitigate it . . . Scholars will appreciate the author's logical caution in drawing inferences from the evidence, as well as the methodologic appendix and superb bibliography. Hemenway develops the public health approach as a pragmatic, science-based effort to reduce injuries and deaths from gun violence. The goal is not to assign blame but, rather, to find solutions, with an emphasis on prevention . . . For gun violence, the analogy is to focus less on the shooters and more on access to guns and their design. . . If shooters were determined, resourceful people with clear and sustained deadly intent, then regulating guns would likely have little effect on the number of homicides and suicides; they would find a way. But in the real world, as Hemenway spells out, a large portion of serious intentional violence would be less deadly if guns were less readily available or less user-friendly. Furthermore, although gun "accidents" make up only a small fraction of the total gun injuries, they are common enough that the Consumer Product Safety Commission would surely give them high priority if it were not barred from doing so by federal law. Another feature separates firearms from vehicles: the possibility of "virtuous use." The belief in the importance of giving civilians a means of self-defense has long been used as an argument for preserving the right to keep handguns in the home. In recent decades, that philosophy has fueled a successful effort to ease state restrictions on carrying concealed weapons in public. This campaign has made great use of the work of criminologist Gary Kleck, who concluded from his analysis of survey data that there are millions of virtuous self-defense uses of guns each year. Hemenway has done more than any other scholar in rebutting that absurd claim. The book includes a summary of his results, which are so definitive as to settle the issue for any open-minded observer. When it comes time to assess the evidence on the effectiveness of particular interventions to reduce gun violence, Hemenway is restrained. He notes, "Unfortunately, there exist few convincing evaluations of past firearms laws." In reviewing the evidence on what works and what might work, he tends to believe that studies support the feasibility of reducing accidents and suicides more than they do the likelihood of cutting down on gun assaults. Here again, he summons a public health core principle: that good data are the precondition for progress. Private Guns, Public Health supplies reason to hope. Philip J. Cook, Ph.D.

    1. Kleck’s rebuttal of Hemenway, et al:

      “Uniformly incompetent and consistently biased… (57). Hemenway “tested the hypothesis that ‘easy access’ to guns increases unsupervised gun handling and gun carrying among urban youth… Neither measure of ‘easy gun access’ to guns was related to either unsupervised gun handing or gun carrying…” According to Kleck, Hemenway cited non-existent statistics. His research was “aimed not at discovering the truth, but rather at buttressing predetermined positions” (157). If you read Kleck’s book, you’ll find rebuttals of Hemenway’s hypotheses on the following pages: 58-9, 62, 157, 163, 166, 301, 317 and 332.

      We have had this prior discussion about data: Skewed data are generally the (1) result of bias or the unwillingness to examine fairly the evidence; (2) rationalizations or citing reasons that attempt to justify actions without creditability; (3) concurring or believing that events existing simultaneously are causally related; (4) post hoc ergo propter hoc, or believing that two events following one another are causally related; (5) selected instances or using so-called evidence which supports a belief or assumption but disregarding evidence that contradicts that belief or assumption; (6) non-sequitur or drawing an inference that is not necessitated by the premises; (7) begging the question or assuming as true what has yet to be proved; (8) straw man or arguing falsely by exaggerating the consequences that may follow from the distortion…

      Correlation is not necessarily causation. However, to establish a causal proposition, there must be a correlation between X and Y; there must be a proper temporal relationship in their occurrence (X must occur before Y, for instance); and there must be at least a presumptive agency which connects them. When we mistake correlation for cause, we commit the fallacy of "cum hoc propter hoc." We have to be careful with our reasoning, indeed. In other words, we have to avoid reducing complexity to simplicity when examining causal explanations; we have to avoid confusing the necessary and sufficient causes; we have to be aware that most connections between cause and effect relationships are usually not necessary but probabilistic.

      Read Kleck’s second chapter “Illegitimate Practices in Summarizing Research on Guns and Violence” for “how reviews of the guns-violence research literature and other brief summaries of evidence can mislead readers.”

  5. Where did you find the 2006 edition of that book? I've been looking for it everywhere. Amazon only has the 1997 edition - which does not contain his response to Hemenway.

  6. Kleck's Book:
    Original copyright is 1997; the second printing is 2006.
    ISBN: 0-202-30569-4
    Library of Congress Catalog Number: 97-35884

    I bought it on Amazon.

  7. From a blog post in September, 2011:

    I [still] agree with background checks for private and gun show sales, and “gun control legislation [that mandates] prohibitions on concealed weapons and possession of firearms by felons and the mentally-deranged, and laws imposing conditions and qualifications on a [specific] commercial sale of arms [such as high-powered assault weapons]…” (District of Columbia v. Heller – Case Brief Summary); however, gun control legislation that will affect responsible law-abiding citizens will never deter the everyday robber or the potentially-deranged terrorist from obtaining illegal weapons...

  8. And yes, if someone is on the FBI terrorist watch list, that someone should never be able to buy a weapon legally or fly in an airplane.