Sooner or later someone is going to realize that most of what the NRA claims to be the value of gun ownership simply isn’t true. Don’t get me wrong. I love guns, bought my first real gun when I was twelve years old and have owned hundreds ever since. But to me guns are a hobby, like model trains and toy soldiers, and I recoil in anger and disgust whenever the gun lobby tries to invest some kind of sacred value in their existence or use. And one of the biggest lies about gun ownership that is spun again and again is the idea that guns are an effective way to protect us against crime.
This nonsense first started making the rounds when a criminologist, Gary Kleck, published a paper in 1994 which claimed that Americans used guns several million times each year to prevent what would otherwise have been crimes. He didn’t say that gun owners shot their guns at would-be criminals; he said that gun owners let a potential criminal know that they were going up against someone with a gun. In fact, not a single person (less than 240 in a national survey) who claimed that they used a gun in this way could prove that their account of what happened was actually true. Not a single incident was reported to police or verified by anyone else. And in more than half the so-called defensive gun uses (DGUs) it turned out that the so-called criminal had neither said nor done anything that indicated criminal intent or any other kind of intent. How did the gun owner who committed the DGU know that he was preventing a crime from taking place? He didn’t.
Kleck’s work was shortly supported by another research hack named John Lott whose data that he used to “prove” that concealed-carry permits resulted in less crime turned out to be data that, to be polite, perhaps didn’t exist at all. When he was asked to produce his data by the National Academy of Sciences he couldn’t; when he produced what he claimed was “similar” data the National Academy’s analysts couldn’t replicate his findings at all. When other scholars took his substitute data and used a different methodology, the crime rates that Lott said went down actually went up.
Don’t think for one second that the inability of either Kleck or Lott to validate their research to an even minimal degree has stopped the gun lobby from promoting the idea that guns protect us from crime or has prevented the two erstwhile scholars from finding receptive audiences for continued showcasing of their work. Kleck routinely appears in courtrooms giving depositions and expert testimony on behalf of the NRA; Lott promotes himself endlessly and shamelessly on Fox and various right-wing blogs.
Now along comes a serious scholar named Michael Siegel who continues to provide us with peer-reviewed studies on gun violence which, to put It bluntly, shows the work of Kleck and Lott to be what it really is. In 2013, Siegel and his colleagues published a detailed article which found a significant correlation between gun ownership rates and gun homicides on a state-by-state basis. Previously, the work of Hemenway and others had demonstrated a possible link between elevated gun homicides and gun ownership on a national level; the research by Siegel and his team, focused on more state-level data, made the connection between guns and gun homicide much more specific and real.
The new study takes the state data on gun ownership and tests the correlation between gun ownership and whether the perpetrator and victim either knew each other or not. It turns out that gun ownership did not really alter the amount of gun homicides involving people who didn’t know each other, but gun homicides were significantly higher in gun-owning households where the perpetrator and victim did. Why didn’t the gun homicide rate decline between strangers if guns are such a good way of protecting us from crime? Because the studies which claim this to be true aren’t studies at all; they are promotional campaigns to sell more guns.