Fox News used debunked statistics to support its suggestion that guns may “deter more crimes than they cause.” In fact, evidence shows that guns are involved in nearly 70 percent of homicides, but are rarely used successfully in self-defense.
In the weeks following the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Fox News has repeatedly pushed the misleading claim that owning guns makes people safer.
On the Wednesday edition of Fox News' Happening Now, correspondent William La Jeunesse gave a report on gun violence and mass shootings. La Jeunesse began by saying, “America has a record-high number of guns, but a lower crime rate. So is it demographics, police work, or because guns deter more crimes than they cause?” La Jeunesse went on to claim that “Americans use guns every day to stop crime, up to 2.5 million times a year. ... Others lower that figure to 1 million.”
But La Jeunesse's report is misleading. His figure of 2.5 million gun owners stopping crime annually has been debunked. This number comes from the discredited research of criminologist Gary Kleck. The director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, David Hemenway, concluded that Kleck's study was conducted with “serious methodological deficiencies” that led the self-defense figure to be “an enormous overestimate.” In order for Kleck's figures to be correct, Hemenway wrote, victims of burglaries would had to have used guns in self-defense over 100 percent of the time.
In a CNN.com column about Kleck's study, CNN contributor David Frum pointed out that Kleck and his co-author admitted that the surveys they relied on did not define how guns were used in reported instances of self-defense. Frum quoted the study: “The lack of such detail raises the possibility that the guns were not actually 'used' in any meaningful way. Instead, (respondents) might be remembering occasions on which they merely carried a gun for protection 'just in case' or investigated a suspicious noise in their backyard, only to find nothing.”
Hemenway conducted his own study on 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.”
Instances of successful self-defense by civilian gun owners are extremely rare. A 2011 report by Hemenway found that one study in Atlanta determined victims of break-ins used firearms in self-defense 1.5 percent of the time; a second study found guns were used in self-defense by sexual assault victims less than 0.1 percent of the time.
Indeed, research indicates that keeping a gun in the home is far more likely to injure or kill those inside the home. The Harvard Injury Control Research Center describes another Hemenway study as finding that "[g]uns in the home are used more often to intimidate intimates than to thwart crime." And a 1998 study by public health expert Arthur Kellermann concluded that every time a gun “injures or kills in self-defense,” it is used “11 times for completed and attempted suicides,” “7 times in criminal assaults and homicides,” and “4 times in unintentional shooting deaths or injuries.”
Toward the end of his report, La Jeunesse said that “less than one-tenth of one percent of all homicides in the United States are caused by mass shootings,” but he failed to note what percentage of homicides involve guns. According to NBC News:
What percentage of murders are committed by people using guns?
According to the FBI Uniform Crime Statistics, in 2011 firearms were used in 68 percent of the nation's murders, 41 percent of robberies, and 21 percent of aggravated assaults.