I know it is the Holidays, but put on your detective hat for a second. How do we know guns save lives? We know a gun was used when the criminal was shot by the victim. The evidence is pretty obvious. The same situation isn’t clear if the attack stops with no shots fired. That confusion is a major reason the self-defense statistics are inconsistent from report to report. We can’t even define when a gun was used in self-defense. Do guns stop crime or not? Well, Sherlock, what do you think? Here are some recent examples to test you.

- In one case, a contractor was working on an empty house. A criminal walked in, picked up a crowbar, and threatened the contractor. The contractor presented his licensed handgun and the criminal fled. The police called it an attempted robbery. The contractor thinks it is a defensive gun use (DGU), even though he didn’t pull the trigger. The criminal knows exactly why he changed his mind and ran. What do you deduce?

- In another case, a store owner was struck over the head and threatened with a handgun during a robbery. The store owner pushed the thieves out of his store and locked the doors. A Good Samaritan walked by the store and saw the armed thieves beating on the store windows and doors. The Samaritan drew his own weapon and the thieves ran. Both the Samaritan and the store owner think the Good Samaritan’s firearm made the thieves break off their attack.

- A man was sitting in his car when a thief jumped in and attempted to carjack him. The driver had his legally carried gun against the carjackers head before the car moved. The police arrested the thief and charged him with attempted theft of the automobile. I call this a defensive gun use. Would you still call it a DGU if the thief had run away and not been captured? Maybe the police will ask him.

Each week I report on cases where guns are successfully used in self-defense. Sometimes shots are fired, but usually the intended victims defend themselves without pulling the trigger. Stopping the attack without firing a shot is the best possible outcome, yet somehow we often ignore this outcome in our crime statistics. I guess we should pass a law requiring criminals to stick around and answer research questions.

The National Research Council surveyed many crime reports that have very different definitions of defensive gun use. The results show that guns are used in self-defense between two times and ten times more often than they are used in crime. Take that data with a grain of salt. Scholars will argue about how much and how often, but the good news is that law abiding gun owners continue to save lives.

What do you think?

Image: Courtesy of Oleg Volk