Guns Don’t Make Us Safe: Debunking The Self-Defense Myth

07/18/2017 10:30 am ET Updated Jul 18, 2017

On June 14, 2017, a gunman opened fire on a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia while Republican congressmen were practicing for the upcoming Congressional Baseball Game, seriously wounding Congressman Steve Scalise (R-LA) and injuring four others.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, several Republicans, including some who had been on the scene of the shooting, told reporters that the only way for Americans to keep themselves safe is to carry a firearm at all times. Representative Chris Collins (R-NY) even wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post publicly declaring he would begin carrying a gun while he was in his district.

This knee-jerk response to gun violence is not only nonsensical, it is outright dangerous. The bottom line is, guns beget gun violence.

The Violence Policy Center (VPC) recently released Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use, which uses available federal data to determine that, despite the myths propagated by the firearms industry and gun lobby, private citizens rarely use guns to kill criminals or stop crimes.

The numbers speak for themselves.

In 2014:

- There were 7,670 criminal gun homicides. There were 224 justifiable homicides involving a gun.

- Only 1.1 percent of victims or intended victims of a violent crime used a firearm in self-defense.

- Only 0.2 percent of victims or intended victims of a property crime used a firearm in self-defense.

- For every time a person used a gun to kill in a justifiable homicide, 34 innocent lives were ended in criminal gun homicides.

According to recently published research in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 87 percent of handgun owners report that protection or self-defense is their principal reason to own a firearm — even though research has shown that having a gun in the home — regardless of the number of guns or how they’re stored — increases the risk of homicide or suicide.

There’s a simple explanation for why gun owners believe guns make us safer: The gun industry and the National Rifle Association (NRA) have spent decades convincing Americans that firearms are the best answer to any possible danger.

The NRA falsely claims that “millions” of Americans use guns for self-defense every year, a number that pro-gun advocates continually use to push their agenda — even though it has been shown to be factually inaccurate.

Why does the gun industry persist in its lies? Short answer: to make money. With household gun ownership falling, the gun industry cynically promotes any excuse to make Americans feel afraid — and find the answer to their fear in buying a gun.

It’s worth noting that, although much of the “self defense” propaganda released by the gun industry focuses on a theoretical criminal lurking in the shadows waiting to attack, our study found that 34.4 percent of people killed in a justifiable homicide — 77 out of 224 — were known to the shooter. The “good guy with a gun vs. bad guy with a gun” trope is a gun lobby and firearms industry myth. Our research found that a gun is 34 times more likely to be used in a criminal homicide than to kill in self-defense.

At the Violence Policy Center, we’ve spent decades documenting and analyzing the overwhelming human toll that gun violence has taken on the United States. There’s no denying that the relentless push for looser and looser gun laws by the gun lobby and its financial partners in the firearms industry has led to bloodshed and pain that should be unimaginable — but occurs on a daily basis. Relying on a gun for self-defense is much more likely to result in tragedy than protection — 34 times more likely, according to our study. Guns don’t protect us. They kill us.

The full study is available at http://www.vpc.org/studies/justifiable17.pdf.

The Violence Policy Center is a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury. Follow the VPC on Twitter and Facebook.

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