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Jun 21 2010

How Well Does Your Gun Protect You?

The last time there was a discussion on Greg Laden’s blog regarding the necessity of firearms, the topic turned to home invasion, which is the classic protect-the-women-and-children fantasy scenario for gun nuts (which are a distinct subset of gun owners). I pulled some statistics to find out what kind of protection guns afforded. Since the subject of relative safety continues to come up, I’m reposting and expanding the information here for handy reference.

In 2006, approximately 447,000 robberies were reported to the FBI. Of these, 14.3% occurred in the home and 42.2% involved a firearm, for about 27,000 home robberies involving a firearm annually. I’m assuming, in the absence of better data, that firearm involvement is evenly distributed between home and non-home robberies, although a higher level of injury encountered in workplace robberies suggests that this may be overstating the involvement of firearms in home robberies.

This translates to an annual, per capita, U.S. rate of firearm-related, home robberies of about 0.0001. Given a risk of injury in all robberies of about 35% (pdf) (with the same caveats about workplace robberies given above), that gives us approximately 9,000 firearm-related home-robbery injuries annually, or an annual per capita risk of 0.00003. Given that the FBI reports only 1,000 deaths during any robberies in all of 2006, the total annual per capita risk of death during robbery during home invasion, using the same assumptions, would be 0.0000002. In other words, tiny.

There are other elements of real crime patterns that don’t match the heroic family-saving home-invasion scenario. Random violence is rare compared to our expectations, with only 60% of the robberies in 2006 (pdf) being committed by strangers and with almost no difference in the rate at which victims require medical treatment between stranger and nonstranger interactions (12% versus 10%).

Also, heroics aren’t guaranteed to succeed. In less than 30% of all 2006 robberies in which another party tried to intervene did the action have a positive effect on the situation. In about 16%, it had a negative effect. This is definitely a net benefit, but it isn’t a certain one, and the statistics on resistance with all weapons accounts for less than 2% of the situations evaluated.

In contrast, the CDC reported 2006 firearm-related deaths at about 31,000 (pdf), roughly the same as the total number of home robberies–not injuries, just death. Approximately 60% of these were accident (1,000) or suicide (17,000). Yes, some of those suicides would have tried another method, but firearm suicides are about three times as likely to succeed as the next most successful method, bringing specifically firearm-related non-homicide deaths in around 13,000.

Homicide deaths from all methods were about 19,000. Gun homicides accounted for 13,000 of these. Given that 12% of homicide victims in that year were known to have been killed by family, that gives us another 1,000 or so people killed by guns kept by them or someone close to them, for a total of 14,000. For death, not injury.

I’ll take the risk of injury during robbery.

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  1. 1
    =^skeptic cat^=

    I guess I take a view of guns similar to the attitude of many on the right to sex and marijuana. Yes, they are dangerous and, as you have pointed out here, people probably don't really need them for anything. But more importantly to me, they seem to be something that my political opponents on the right enjoy very much and I would get an immense sense of personal satisfaction in taking them away from them just to see them suffer.

  2. 2
    Stephanie Zvan

    *snerk* A worthy goal.It's one I don't necessarily share, however. I enjoy target shooting, and I'm pretty good at it. I'd like to see what balancing gun ownership "rights" and gun control actually looks like before I say, "Hey, let's take those away." Unfortunately, the data so far are anything but unambiguous (there are lots of reasons we're not terribly comparable to other countries in terms of violence), and even starting to sort out the situation brings people hollering. So this post, and others like it, are an attempt to address the various common arguments so I'm not starting over from scratch each time.

  3. 3
    =^skeptic cat^=

    To be quite honest, gun related fatalities number in the thousands, that is single digit thousands, every year. By contrast: drugs, alcohol and automobile accident related deaths number in the hundreds of thousands and tobacco deaths number in the millions.I come from a rural, Michigan, background myself and never thought much about gun control when I was of the opinion that guns enthusiasts were interested in sporting and home protection.Then, I took it upon myself to go out and debunk conspiracy theories. Oh dear, that was a mistake wasn't it?Pretty quickly one finds when one digs deeply enough that a fair number of gun enthusiasts are interested stockpiling firearms to overthrow … Insert: gummit, Luciferian Illuminatis, shape-shifting-space-lizards, etc …While I am not of the opinion that firearms constructed for the purpose of warding off vermin would be any use against a US Government armed with nuclear missiles and such I have spoken with enough gun enthusiasts who hold these kinds of antisocial views to believe that it might be a good idea to further restrict the pool of individuals who have access to firearms ….Although, yes, should that day come I probably will be going "na na na na na na …"

  4. 4
    ERV

    Ive never been into guns for anything but hunting. (goosies and duckies and turkeys and deer are nommy *shrug*)But I am a HUGE advocate of martial arts. If you *really* want to protect yourself, its the only way to go. Every woman should learn at least *a* martial art. What to do if someone shoves you. What to do if someone grabs you. How to gtf out of a situation if three, four people target you. These are life skills for incidents that happen to anyone, every day.And if you have time, learn how to use a hammer.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ufss5ot_vGEBut dont rely on the hammer.

  5. 5
    Sevesteen

    You touted this as highly sourced–but raw numbers aren't the same as analysis. Yes, home invasion is relatively rare in the US–in part because of guns in homes. I'm told that the UK has a much higher proportion of home invasions-no guns, and many more restrictions on self-defense. Guns are a more effective method of suicide–but in part because people who are not serious pick other methods. (down, not across) I knew a guy who ate a bottle of Tylenol because a girl he'd met a few weeks before rejected him. They wound up married a few weeks later. Nearly half of murder victims are convicted felons–I don't see that accounted for anywhere, and it changes the numbers for non-felons considerably.

  6. 6
    CyberLizard

    Thank you for taking the time and putting hard facts into the discussion instead of yet another anecdote. Out of curiosity, I'd be interested to see how that per capita risk of 0.0000002 compares against dying in a car crash. If I was good at the maths I might even attempt such research ;-)@Sevesteen: "Nearly half of murder victims are convicted felons–I don't see that accounted for anywhere, and it changes the numbers for non-felons considerably."What's your point? First of all, your numbers are pulled out of nowhere, secondly, so what? How does that have any bearing on the discussion? Unless you take the attitude that felons don't deserve to not be murdered. Given such a vast array of things one can be convicted of a felony for, that seems like a fairly bigoted position to take.

  7. 7
    Stephanie Zvan

    Sevesteen, feel free to do your own analysis, if you don't think this qualifies. However, analysis isn't just "Well, there are some things I don't like about those numbers." It's actually doing the work to figure out how your assumptions affect the final outcome. Given that this analysis shows a higher rate of additional deaths due to guns than exposures to the crime scenario people most want them for, you're going to have to make some pretty strong assumptions.As for the assumptions you did make. Regarding suicide, the number listed here as attributable to guns is compared to the next most successful means. People who are serious about suicide but don't have guns do use another method. Hanging, if I recall correctly. Not for the unserious.On felons, of the 1,000 handgun murders included here, more than half the victims are wives of the murderer. Care to make an argument about how your unsourced statistic applies to domestic violence?In the U.K., I haven't seen stats for home invasion or even location information that would allow me to make the same assumptions made here. However, according to their national crime survey (http://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs09/hosb1109vol1.pdf), the U.K. has about twice the total robbery rate of the U.S. (0.45% annually versus 0.23%) and a slightly lower overall violent crime rate (3.5% versus 4.0%). Note that the U.K. rate includes possession of a weapon as a violent crime. If you have a source for your figures that is more than a game of telephone, I'll be happy to look at it.Otherwise, you've just asked for statistics, then said you don't like them without offering anything in their place.

  8. 8
    rturpin

    While self-inflicted gunshot strikes me as a quite reliable method of suicide for anyone who is familiar with firearms and who understands anatomy, I would expect physician-assisted suicide to be even more reliable. Are you not including that method in your comparison? And if not, why not? Is suicide acceptable precisely when it has been medicalized and commoditized?

  9. 9
    Stephanie Zvan

    rturpin, what do you think considering physician-assisted suicide would tell us about the number of gun suicides that wouldn't be successful by other means? Are you suggesting that without access to guns, these people would be able to get lethal drugs from their doctors?

  10. 10
    rturpin

    As far as I know, physician-assisted suicide is available only in Oregon. In other states, someone who has reached the point that they want to die would have to use other means. A gun is the next most reliable means. Your post seems to assume that suicide always should be viewed as something to condemn and prevent. In my view, suicide is sometimes a reasonable choice. If a disease were to destroy my love of life and hope for any future, I might turn a gun on myself. So why should I view a gun negatively for that?

  11. 11
    Greg

    These are life skills for incidents that happen to anyone, every day.Shit, man, you need to move.

  12. 12
    Ben Zvan

    I'm curious. In my experience, a 'robbery' is when someone threatens you directly, usually with a weapon, and takes things and a 'burglary' is when someone breaks into un-occupied property and takes things. Is that an accurate definition of 'robbery' in this case or are burglaries likely to be reported as robberies and skew the statistics?

  13. 13
    Greg

    If someone breaks into your house, takes your TV and leaves, and you are home but upstairs in bed and sleep through it, that's still burglary. The exact definitions vary by state. I wold guess that burglaries are over reported, that robberies become burglaries when pled. This is because burglary (again, depending on state, etc.) can have misdemeanor categories, while robbery is generally a felony no matter what.

  14. 14
    rystefn

    I'd say the solution is teaching people about guns, not taking them away. Requiring gun safety and marksmanship training from a young age would likely remove a large number of those accidental shootings.Unfortunately, there's a rather large subset of the gun enthusiast group (likely overlapping largely with the previously mentioned "gun nut" subset) which is heavily opposed to education for some reason.Also, just like most people consider themselves above average drivers, most gun owners consider themselves very safe and think accidents are things that happen to other people. Just as there would be a massive outcry against stricter training and safety requirements for driving, a great many current gun owners would pitch a fit if it was suggested that they not be able to continue keeping firearms until and unless they, and everyone in the household where said firearm is kept, take and pass (regular recurring) firearms safety courses.

  15. 15
    Heather M. Rosa

    Yeah, and 17% of people polled believe they are in the top 1% of income. Self-reporting is bogus because so many of us haven't a real clue. It strikes me that the axiom that only the unloaded weapon is dangerous is said for a reason. Guns are not safe in the home.That said, I'll still support hunting, background checks, lots of gun safety classes, trigger locks, ammo safes, and gun safes. That is, for other people. I won't have one in my home. I survived a rocky abusive marriage in a home without guns. There were times where I wasn't sure that would have been true if there were an easy option of using a gun in the heat of anger. My kids grew up in a home without toy guns because I never wanted them to believe any gun was a toy. I don't own any possessions worth defending with a gun, especially considering the other risks.

  16. 16
    Sevesteen

    Every gun nut I know would consider it a major victory for gun rights if we taught everyone marksmanship and gun safety at an early age. Merely teaching gun safety would be a minor victory. Even an hour or two per year would save lives. Unfortunately, liberals and educators use the same logic on guns as the abstinence-only sex ed idiots, so even teaching basic safety rules is off limits.

  17. 17
    Stephanie Zvan

    Sevesteen, do you have a source for your assertion about liberals? I, for one, have been through gun safety training. My only objection to training is when "…and that's why we need to defeat gun control legislation!" ends up included in it.

  18. 18
    Greg

    rystefn: Accidental deaths are hardly the issue. The issue is when one of those switches goes off and a law abiding citizen takes out a gun and kills someone in a fit of being all mid-evil and shit. I agree with you on education both in the sense that it could help and in the sense that it can't work.

  19. 19
    Sevesteen

    Safety training for adults is likely to be run by the NRA or someone with similar ideology. In that setting, you are bound to get the political message. I agree that this sort of message would be inappropriate in a school setting. In a recent survey, 67.42% of self-identified liberals equated gun safety training with training to be a murderer. That's made up of course– How on earth would I prove the assertion that liberals don't want to teach gun safety?

  20. 20
    Stephanie Zvan

    Sevesteen, I'm asking for a link. You know how the internet works.

  21. 21
    Sevesteen

    Sometimes I get out in the real world–I can't find a link to the liberals I talk to there…

  22. 22
    Stephanie Zvan

    So this is something you heard, like the convicted felons "stat" that isn't even close? That's a lot of decimal places for oral memory.

  23. 23
    Greg

    How on earth would I prove the assertion that liberals don't want to teach gun safety? I'm not sure, you could ask them.I'm a liberal and I'm a strong advocate of teaching gun safety.

  24. 24
    Sevesteen

    I was responding to rystefn's absurd comment that gun nuts object to training–I'd love to see a cite for that, because it is completely opposite my experience–of the many gun nuts I know, all of them without exception want kids to learn gun safety. Eddie Eagle is watered down to politically correct abstinence-only. Anti-gun groups still reliably object to its teaching in schools, but don't offer any alternatives. So Gun Nuts want kids to get safety training. You say liberals kids to get safety training–where is the holdup?

  25. 25
    rturpin

    Sevesteen wrote:"Safety training for adults is likely to be run by the NRA or someone with similar ideology. .. I agree that this sort of message would be inappropriate in a school setting."Guns have become a successful wedge issue for the right since I was young. Back then, schools had rifle clubs not much different from photography clubs, chemistry clubs, orienteering clubs, etc. Students from all backgrounds would participate, with parents of all political suasions. There is also the civil liberty side to this. No matter how much one might think it a mistake, the 2nd amendment is part of our Constitution. The Heller ruling and the forthcoming MacDonald ruling are on grounds that liberals would approve, regarding any other part of the Bill of Rights. Do liberals really want to be seen as cutting their own holes into the Bill of Rights, as the right-wing does? Admittedly, in the right's case, it's mostly holes, the 2nd amendment being about the only part they support. But don't we want to be more than a better mirror reflection?

  26. 26
    Erik Pakieser

    Statistics don't mean a lot when they are happening to you. If you would rather experience "increased risk of injury during a robbery" that's your decision. My decision – actually, my duty – is to protect myself and my family. A firearm serves an effective tool for that purpose.You want to assume the risk, I don't. That doesn't make me (or anyone else who owns a gun for self defense) a bad person.

  27. 27
    Stephanie Zvan

    Erik, did you read this post? I ask because you're telling me it's your duty to put your family at greater risk by having a gun.

  28. 28
    Erik Pakieser

    I guess that's the problem. I don't agree that owning a gun puts me at greater risk of being killed than suffering injury in a robbery. I feel that the entire statistical argument is based on flawed logic. Some of my reasoning:Counting a gun suicide as part of the increased risk of having a gun in the home is appropriate only if the presence of a gun facilitates a "successful" suicide that would not otherwise occur. But most research suggests that guns do not cause suicide – people with depression committ suicide using whatever means are available. (Japan, which prohibits handguns and rifles entirely, and regulates long guns very severely, has a suicide rate of more than twice the U.S. level.)Naturally, if you have any suspicion that anybody in your home might be suicidal, it would hardly be a mistake for you to ensure that they do not have ready access to guns, tranquilizers, or other potentially lethal items – but I have no reason to believe this is the case in my home. On to accidents. One study of gun-accident victims found that they were "disproportionately involved in other accidents, violent crime, and heavy drinking." (Philip Cook, "The Role of Firearms in Violent Crime: An Interpretative Review of the Literature," in Criminal Violence). Or, as another researcher put it, "The psychological profile of the accident-prone suggests the same kind of aggressiveness shown by most murderers." (Roger Lane, "On the Social Meaning of Homicide Trends in America," in Violence in America, Vol. I, 1989.) These statistics also ignore the most important factor of all in assessing the risks of gun ownership: whose home the gun is in. You don't need a medical researcher to tell you that guns can be misused when in the homes of persons with mental illness related to violence; or in the homes of persons prone to self-destructive, reckless behavior; or in the homes of persons with arrest records for violent felonies; or in the homes where the police have had to intervene to deal with domestic violence. To study high-risk homes and then jump to conclusions about the general population is illogical. We know that possession of an automobile by an alcoholic who is prone to drunk driving may pose a serious health risk. But proof that automobiles in the hands of alcoholics may be risky doesn't prove that autos in the hands of non-alcoholics are risky. In this case, the statistics lump the homes of violent felons, alcoholics, and other disturbed people in with the population as a whole. They fail to distinguish between the large risks of guns in the hands of dangerous people, with the tiny risks (and large benefits) of guns in the hands of ordinary people. I consider myself to be a good person, and I resent being painted with the same broad brush as those who are reckless, foolish, or dangerous.

  29. 29
    Greg

    Erik, you are disagreeing with the science. The problem here is that one readlly should not have the right to disagree with the science when this puts others at risk (a bit selfish, don't you think?) but we live in a society in which we appease the less-than sharpest knives.So, what do we do? We insist that if you are going to have this stupid gun, because you think you need it, then fine. But if it gets out and someone gets shot who wasn't supposed to get shot, Man 1 for you, minimally. If you demonstrate unsafe tendencies, than spot checks to see if you even own a gun safe are in order. Etc. Or, at least, something along those lines. Do yo usee why this is necessary? No, you don't. Which is why it is necessary.

  30. 30
    Stephanie Zvan

    The problem, Eric, is that you have a great reason to disagree with the numbers and it has nothing to do with whether the numbers apply to you. You just want that gun to make you feel safer, so you'll rationalize whatever it takes. You have no way to know whether someone in your house is in danger of suicide. You, in particular, are likely to be a bad judge of that because it would conflict with your "duty" to have a gun in order to deal with a non-existent threat.You note that gun deaths are more likely to happen to…well, it boils down to the poor, although you don't put it that way. However, you completely fail to recognize that these are exactly the people with elevated risks of criminal victimization. The risks of crime and accident and suicide rise and fall together. But yes, you'll believe what you want to believe, because that cold little piece of metal makes you feel better, no matter what it actually means to you and your family.

  31. 31
    Erik Pakieser

    I have to admit I had some trepidation entering into a discussion with a hostile crowd, but this has been very interesting.I am curious if any of you had previously owned guns, and gotten rid of them because of these statistical claims, or if you had already decided that gun ownership was a bad idea before seeing these claims? I have to admit that my own point of view causes me to doubt the statistics, and, as I pointed out, I can produce conflicting statistics that support my point of view. Regardless of the statistical claims, I will continue to believe that my own lifestyle choices and responsible behavior will mitigate the possibility of myself or a family member accidentally or deliberately killing themselves with one of my guns. I also will continue to believe that a firearm is an effective tool for self defense. I am sure I will not win any of you over. Honestly, that's not my goal. All I ask is that you respect my choice to own a gun the same way you ask others to respect any other personal freedom you enjoy.

  32. 32
    Stephanie Zvan

    Erik, I'm probably a better shot than you are. I have a freezer full of venison. I haven't anywhere advocated for the banning of guns, even handguns. That you think you're responsible enough to handle guns safely would be much more impressive if you weren't (1) parroting what everyone says about owning a gun, even when they've just shot someone accidentally; (2) telling us your confidence is based on being somehow different from other people; (3) declaring your intention to use your gun when your mind is clouded by your fear; and (4) telling us flat out that you're resistant to any evidence that might make you think any differently about gun safety. As it is, you're one of the people who keeps me from shooting as much as I'd like to. I don't want to spend the time around dangerous idiots.

  33. 33
    Erik Pakieser

    Stephaine, you let me down. I gave you the benefit of the doubt and thought we could actually have a conversation. I approached the subject in a respectful manner, and you and others have responded with a barrage of personal attacks and insults. I don't see any reason to stick around. If you feel that means you have "won" then congratulations.

  34. 34
    Stephanie Zvan

    And this is what people who flounce say. Seriously, Erik?What kind of conversation were you looking to have? I ask because you showed up pretending that anyone here had called you a bad person and addressing none of the points of the post or the comments to date. Then you made bullshit defeatest claims that allowed you to dismiss suicide victims, invoked Japan as though it has relevance to U.S. gun culture, and made yourself feel safer by claiming to be a different class of person than those who experience unintentional gun injuries. Then you told everyone that no amount of evidence was going to change your mind. Where in all that is any kind of discussion? If you want affirmations, get yourself a desk calendar.

  35. 35
    Rogue6

    From http://www.pulpless.com/gunclock/kleck2.html: "A national survey conducted in 1994 by the Police Foundation and sponsored by the National Institute of Justice almost exactly confirmed… that 1.44% of the adult population had used a gun for protection against a person in the previous year, implying 2.73 million defensive gun users. These results were well within sampling error of the corresponding 1.33% and 2.55 million estimates produced by the National Self-Defense Survey."I think that the original post fails to account for all the instances in which firearms were used for self-defense in which a person was not charged with crime.

  36. 36
    Stephanie Zvan

    Amusing that you came here looking for "number of home invasions per capita" when you already thought you knew the answer. As for that study, you might want to talk to someone familiar with the details, as the authors suggest in the abstract. The whole thing is kind of funny: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2011/04/accidental_v_intentional_fatal.php#comment-3717179

  1. 37
    Rushing to Be Part of the Gun Problem » Almost Diamonds

    [...] your gun makes you safer, you tell me you don’t understand safety. You don’t understand your risks without a gun, and you don’t understand the risks that a gun adds. You don’t understand how desirable [...]

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