Wash. Times' Emily Miller Downplays Gun Violence With Debunked Statistic

Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller falsely claimed that guns are used to prevent crimes about 2 million times a year, a defensive gun use statistic that has been repeatedly debunked. 

Miller's claim comes in response to a statement by NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, who noted that “bad things happen” as a result of firearm use. Miller compared the defensive gun use statistic, which comes from the discredited research of criminologist Gary Kleck, to the 30,000 gun deaths that occur on average annually in the United States to conclude that firearm use is actually a net social benefit.

Mr. Costas expanded on his theme by saying, “Far more often, bad things happen -- including unintentional things -- than things where the presence of a gun diminishes or averts danger.” He's only telling half the story. About 30,000 people are killed by firearms, but guns are are [sic] also used to prevent crimes approximately 2 million times a year. 

Kleck's research, which purports to show that guns are used to prevent millions of crimes each year, is often touted by conservatives in media as evidence for looser regulation of firearms.

But an investigation into his research by Harvard Injury Control Research Center director David Hemenway concluded that Kleck's study was conducted with “serious methodological deficiencies” leading the self-defense figure to be “an enormous overestimate.” In fact, Hemenway found that the defensive gun use number is so high that it is a mathematical impossibility. If Kleck's figures are correct, victims of burglaries would have to use a gun to defend themselves over 100 percent of the time:

[I]n 34% of the times a gun was used for self-defense, the offender was allegedly committing a burglary. In other words, guns were reportedly used by defenders for self-defense in approximately 845,000 burglaries. From sophisticated victimization surveys, however, we know that there were fewer than 6 million burglaries in the year of the survey and in only 22% of those cases was someone certainly at home (1.3 million burglaries). Since only 42% of U.S. households own firearms, and since victims in two thirds of the occupied dwellings were asleep, the 2.5 million figure requires us to believe that burglary victims use their guns in self-defense more than 100% of the time. [emphasis added]

Hemenway conducted his own survey, asking respondents to report defensive gun use and gun victimization, and found that “far more survey respondents report having been threatened or intimidated with a gun than having used a gun to protect themselves.”

Even after excluding many reported firearm victimizations, far more survey respondents report having been threatened or intimidated with a gun than having used a gun to protect themselves. A majority of the reported self defense gun uses were rated as probably illegal by a majority of judges. This was so even under the assumption that the respondent had a permit to own and carry the gun, and that the respondent had described the event honestly. 

Millers' comparison of defensive gun uses to the approximate 30,000 lives lost to gunfire each year also fails to account for nearly 74,000 nonfatal gunshot wounds that occur in a typical year. According to The Wall Street Journal, the number of serious gunshot wounds -- where a hospital stay is required -- has increased 47 percent over the past 10 years. Gun homicide fatalities remained relatively flat over that period, a discrepancy that experts say is partially explained by improved medical capabilities. From the December 8 edition of The Wall Street Journal:

[M]ore people in the U.S. are getting shot, but doctors have gotten better at patching them up. Improved medical care doesn't account for the entire decline in homicides but experts say it is a major factor.

Emergency-room physicians who treat victims of gunshot and knife attacks say more people survive because of the spread of hospital trauma centers -- which specialize in treating severe injuries -- the increased use of helicopters to ferry patients, better training of first-responders and lessons gleaned from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Our experience is we are saving many more people we didn't save even 10 years ago,” said C. William Schwab, director of the Firearm and Injury Center at the University of Pennsylvania and the professor of surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.