NRA Aggregates Civilian Gun Use Stories

I used to post these pretty frequently when I came across them: stories of law-abiding citizens using firearms to defend themselves or others. I’m not saying I don’t or won’t share these kinds of stories in the future again, but I just haven’t been doing it much recently. I did come across this aggregator, created by the NRA, that I thought was interesting. Based on a quick skim, it looks like they’re finding about one story per day, or at least multiple stories per week.1

2014-04-21 Defensive Gun Use

One thing you’ll note is that a lot of them don’t involve fatalities. Some of them don’t even involve firing a gun at all. In Gun carrying woman halts violent mob, The Detroit News, Detroit, Mich. 04/08/14, WJBK, Detroit, Mich. 04/08/14, WXYZ, Detroit, Mich. 04/07/14 a woman stops a mob from beating a man who had accidentally hit 10-year old with his car (the kid seems to have been OK). She had a pistol in her pocket, but she never had to draw it. Does that count as a gun-use? I think it does. She stated, “I had a gun in my pocket, I was ready to do some damage if I had to.” That’s pretty typical: sometimes a gun isn’t directly needed, but it changes the options that you have available. Another one was Woman scares off fugitive, Access North Georgia, Ga. 04/02/14. In that case a woman did fire the gun, but apparently didn’t hit anyone. It’s not really clear if it was a warning shot or she was trying to hit the guy (“a fugitive on the run”), but it’s another example of defensive gun use without any body count.

Keep that in mind when folks tell you that a gun is more likely to be used to commit suicide than to defend your home, or similar stats. Although the safety concerns of gun ownership as it relates to suicide are legitimate, these numbers are frequently based on only counting justifiable homicide, which ignores the vast majority of real-world defensive gun use.

5 thoughts on “NRA Aggregates Civilian Gun Use Stories”

  1. Also keep in mind that the “vast majority” claim is based on data selected by the NRA, who have donated quite a lot of money to the campaigns of our representatives in government in order to establish a monopoly on aggregate data about the effects of gun ownership.

  2. Kelsey,

    The “vast majority” statement does not depend on NRA data at all. Let me just give a very basic illustration:

    Case 1: A person shoots in self-defense, killing the perpetrator.

    Case 2: A person shoots in self-defense, wounding but not killing the perpetrator.

    Both of these are examples of defensive use of a fire-arm, but if you only count fatalities then you’re only counting Case 1. But the actual chances of dying, given that you’ve been shot, are somewhere in the range of 10-20%. (That’s based on a quick Google search.) That means–without any reliance on any NRA data at all–that we can say that for every Case 1 type of defensive use, there are 8 or 9 Case 2 defensive uses. So if you’re only counting Case 1 types, then you are indeed ignoring the “vast majority” (i.e. 80-90%) of defensive gun uses.

    But of course, that’s just for starters. We could add more:

    Case 3: A person shoots in self-defense, scaring off an attacker but not hitting the attacker.

    Case 4: A person threatens to shoot in self-defense, scaring off an attacker but never shooting.

    The thing is, folks who are involve in gun culture tend to know that the chances of survival are fairly good (case 2) and also that the chances of hitting your target with a handgun in a stressful situation are very low (case 3) and so they know that most defensive uses don’t involve killing anyone. It’s natural to them. But a lot of the folks who support greater control over firearms come from outside the community, and tend to not understand firearms as well. They may naturally assume that a high percentage of gunshots are fatal and also that you can hit what you aim at pretty regularly (both are reasonable conclusions if you’re understanding is based on the movies or even the news), so they don’t realize how badly off the numbers are if you start with only fatal defensive uses of guns.

    It’s just one of the quirks of this debate: there are cultural as well as political differences between the two sides.

  3. I don’t know how often this happens or if this is ever accounted for in the stats, but the details of gun-related suicides can be tricky. A friend of ours lost his son to suicide. The young man was home after struggling with prescription drug addiction. He was released to his family who had secured the house and were attaining more professional help. They were reassured by the hospital that he was not a threat to himself or anyone at this time. They were very loving, supportive, and worried about him. Within the week, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his bedroom while most of the family was home. They think he bought the gun at a pawn shop when he ran to the store that morning. Technically, he died from a “gun in the home” but, in reality, he brought the gun into the home with that purpose in mind. This was his sixth suicide attempt, and he struggled with lifelong depression. I doubt — and the family doubts — that this could have been prevented without secure hospitalization, and I cringe that this somehow could be included in gun stats as anything meaningful to guns.

    Your stats above, Nathaniel, are very helpful for a more realistic picture of gun ownership in America.

  4. That’s a fair point. I had inferred from the that the piece only mentions stories from the set of anecdotes the NRA has chosen to highlight for propaganda purposes that these were the only sources which went into the reasoning. I have unresolved issues with the fact that federal law (effectively paid for by the NRA) bars the collection of the sort of data which could give us a more accurate picture of the consequences of gun ownership and use.

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