The Prevalence of Defensive Gun Use: Possible Sources of Error and the Results of 21 National Surveys
37 Pages Posted: 16 Jun 2020
Date Written: January 14, 2020
The merits of gun control as a policy for reducing violence depend on the costs and benefits of the controls. It has been argued that one significant cost of some controls could be reducing opportunities for crime victims to use guns for self-protection. The potential significance of these opportunity costs are dependent on just how often crime victims actually use guns for defense. This paper synthesizes the results of 21 professionally conducted national surveys of probability samples of the U.S. adult population, analyzes the likely sources of error in surveys, and compares prevalence of defensive gun use (DGU) indicated by the surveys with the highest available national estimates of the number of offensive/criminal uses of guns. Evidence on known sources of error indicates that almost all of them tend to make DGU prevalence estimates too low. Finally, national surveys consistently indicate that defensive uses of guns by crime victims are far more frequent than offensive uses by offenders to attack or threaten victims.
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