How Often Do Citizens Use Guns to Stop Violence?

Agresti, J. D. (2018, February 23). How Often Do Citizens Use Guns to Stop Violence? Retrieved from
Agresti, James D. “How Often Do Citizens Use Guns to Stop Violence?” Just Facts. 23 February 2018. Web. 14 April 2024.<>.
Chicago (for footnotes)
James D. Agresti, “How Often Do Citizens Use Guns to Stop Violence?” Just Facts. February 23, 2018.
Chicago (for bibliographies)
Agresti, James D. “How Often Do Citizens Use Guns to Stop Violence?” Just Facts. February 23, 2018.

By James D. Agresti
February 23, 2018

In a New York Times column entitled “How to Reduce Shootings,” Nicholas Kristof writes, “It is true that guns are occasionally used to stop violence. But contrary to what the National Rifle Association suggests, this is rare. One study by the Violence Policy Center found that in 2012 there were 259 justifiable homicides by a private citizen using a firearm.”

That statement grossly misleads by pretending that firearms only stop violence when they are used to kill criminals. As explained by the National Academies of Sciences in a 300+ page analysis of firearms studies, “effective defensive gun use need not ever lead the perpetrator to be wounded or killed. Rather, to assess the benefits of self-defense, one needs to measure crime and injury averted. The particular outcome of an offender is of little relevance.”

Likewise, a 1995 paper in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology states, “This is also too serious a matter to base conclusions on silly statistics comparing the number of lives taken with guns with the number of criminals killed by victims. Killing a criminal is not a benefit to the victim, but rather a nightmare to be suffered for years afterward.”

The purpose of having a gun for defense is not to kill criminals but to prevent them from killing or harming others. Accordingly, the same 1995 paper found that “only 8%” of people who use a gun for defense “report wounding an adversary.” Given the study’s sample size, this 8% figure has a margin of sampling error of ± 4 percentage points with 95% confidence. The authors conclude that “the rather modest 8.3% wounding rate we found is probably too high” and that defensive gun uses “are less serious or dramatic in their consequences than our data suggest.”

In other words, people who use a gun for defense rarely harm (much less kill) criminals. This is because criminals often back off when they discover their targets are armed. A 1982 survey of male felons in 11 state prisons across the U.S. found that 40% of them had decided not to commit a crime because they “knew or believed that the victim was carrying a gun.”

Contrary to Kristof’s deceitful claim, a range of credible data suggests that civilians use guns to stop violence more than 100,000 times per year.

For instance, the above-cited 1995 paper was based on a survey of 4,977 households, which found that at least 0.5% of households over the previous five years had members who had used a gun for defense during a situation in which they thought someone “almost certainly would have been killed” if they “had not used a gun for protection.” Applied to the U.S. population using standard scientific methods, this amounts to at least 162,000 saved lives per year, excluding all “military service, police work, or work as a security guard.”

Since this data is from the 1990s and is based on people’s subjective views of what would have happened if they did not use a gun, it should be taken with a grain of salt. However, the same survey found that the number of people who used a gun for self-defense was about six times greater than the number who said that using the gun “almost certainly” saved a life. This amounts to at least 1,029,615 defensive gun uses per year, including those in which lives were saved and those of lesser consequence.

Notably, anti-gun criminologist Marvin E. Wolfgang praised this study, which was conducted by pro-gun researchers Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz. In the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Wolfgang wrote:

  • “I am as strong a gun-control advocate as can be found among the criminologists in this country.”
  • “Nonetheless, the methodological soundness of the current Kleck and Gertz study is clear. I cannot further debate it.”
  • “The Kleck and Gertz study impresses me for the caution the authors exercise and the elaborate nuances they examine methodologically. I do not like their conclusions that having a gun can be useful, but I cannot fault their methodology.”

Other credible studies provide evidence that defensive gun uses are much more common than Kristof leads his readers to believe.

Anti-gun researcher David McDowall and others conducted a major survey of defensive gun use that was published by the Journal of Quantitative Criminology in 2000. The authors did not take their survey results to their logical conclusions by using the common practice of weighting them to determine what the results would be for a nationally representative survey. But when one does this, the results imply that U.S. civilians use guns to defend themselves and others from crime at least 990,000 times per year. This figure accounts only for “clear” cases of defensive gun use and is based upon a weighting calculation designed to minimize defensive gun uses.

Similarly, a 1994 survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] found that Americans use guns to frighten away intruders who are breaking into their homes about 498,000 times per year.

In 2013, President Obama ordered the Department of Health and Human Services and CDC to “conduct or sponsor research into the causes of gun violence and the ways to prevent it.” In response, the CDC asked the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council to “convene a committee of experts to develop a potential research agenda focusing on the public health aspects of firearm-related violence….” This committee studied the issue of defensive gun use and reported:

  • “Defensive use of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence, although the exact number remains disputed….”
  • “Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million….”
  • [S]ome scholars point to a radically lower estimate of only 108,000 annual defensive uses based on the National Crime Victimization Survey,” but this “estimate of 108,000 is difficult to interpret because respondents were not asked specifically about defensive gun use.”
  • “Studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was ‘used’ by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies….”

In sum, the difference between credible defensive gun use data and Kristof’s deceitful “259” figure is enormous. By misleading his readers to believe that firearms are rarely used for defense, he and his editors at the Times could dissuade people who may otherwise save lives from ever getting the firearms that enable them to do so.

  • February 23, 2018 at 5:09 PM

    Excellent post. How do I receive more of your posts? I tried to sign up but it wouldn’t let me.

    • February 24, 2018 at 12:38 AM

      Thank you for your kind words and for letting us know about this issue. We have fixed it.

  • February 23, 2018 at 9:34 PM

    Sorry can I just Hi that last thing you linked you only took quotes from one page of about 65 (excluding references and such). Ehh I’ll just give you the whole page why not its not that long. Its page 16 if anyone wants to find it.

    “Defensive Use of Guns

    Defensive use of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence, although the exact number remains disputed (Cook and Ludwig, 1996; Kleck, 2001a). Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million (Kleck, 2001a), in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008 (BJS, 2010). On the other hand, some scholars point to a radically lower estimate of only 108,000 annual defensive uses based on the National Crime Victimization Survey (Cook et al., 1997). The variation in these numbers remains a controversy in the field. The estimate of 3 million defensive uses per year is based on an extrapolation from a small number of responses taken from more than 19 national surveys. The former estimate of 108,000 is difficult to interpret because respondents were not asked specifically about defensive gun use.

    A different issue is whether defensive uses of guns, however numerous or rare they may be, are effective in preventing injury to the gun-wielding crime victim. Studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was “used” by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies (Kleck, 1988; Kleck and DeLone, 1993; Southwick, 2000; Tark and Kleck, 2004). Effectiveness of defensive tactics, however, is likely to vary across types of victims, types of offenders, and circumstances of the crime, so further research is needed both to explore these contingencies and to confirm or discount earlier findings.

    Even when defensive use of guns is effective in averting death or injury for the gun user in cases of crime, it is still possible that keeping a gun in the home or carrying a gun in public—concealed or open carry—may have a different net effect on the rate of injury. For example, if gun ownership raises the risk of suicide, homicide, or the use of weapons by those who invade the homes of gun owners, this could cancel or outweigh the beneficial effects of defensive gun use (Kellermann et al., 1992, 1993, 1995). Although some early studies were published that relate to this issue, they were not conclusive, and this is a sufficiently important question that it merits additional, careful exploration.”

    I mean Im not one to really talk and I haven’t seen the TIMES article but I wouldn’t say that you’re much better. I am still going through the rest of your sources although I would recommend anyone wanting to make their own opinions actually read the stuff that you link (although I supposed when you pick a 300 and 100 page thing you don’t expect many people to realize what you quoted is only a page or so)

    • June 20, 2019 at 10:42 PM

      The points that you are drawing on are all inconclusive. You are trying to discount their use of conclusive evidence with inconclusive theory. Seems to me your barking down a dead end ally just to maintain an argument where there is none. Simpy put “If gun control causes one unnecessary victim of crime, then it is an injustice.” Period!

  • February 23, 2018 at 10:30 PM

    Your math just doesn’t add up my friend! You say JFD is no better than the Times?! They say guns are only “occasionally”, “rarely”, used to stop violence, and then cite the number of 259. Clearly the study shows it is in the many many thousands of instances, the lowest number being over 100,000 in a survey that didn’t even ask about gun usage. How is this not an attempt by the Times to mislead people? The only statements the text you added show that may not be in line with JFD’s conclusions are statements regarding the effectiveness. Statements full of words like “may”, “if”, “could” and “possible” – not exactly cold hard facts. I mean no disrespect, but if you’re going to compare JFD to the Times, perhaps you should have spent some of that time reading the actual article as well. Criminals by and large are cowards, and they will usually just find an easier target.

    • February 24, 2018 at 12:57 AM

      Someone named “Christy” recently began posting reams of dishonest and inflammatory comments on our Facebook page, and this sounds like the same person.

      As you pointed out, the excerpt she quoted is in full agreement with the facts of this article. Her argument amounts to saying that you must quote a lengthy excerpt from a source, or you can’t quote it at all. If that were the common standard, scholarship would grind to a halt. What is important is that you quote the source accurately and in context, and this article—like all of Just Facts’ publications—does exactly that.

    • April 10, 2018 at 8:31 AM

      Debunked by whom….no one of consequence…



      debunked (past tense) · debunked (past participle)

      expose the falseness or hollowness of (a myth, idea, or belief).

      “the magazine that debunks claims of the paranormal”

      synonyms: explode · deflate · puncture · quash · knock the bottom out of · drive a coach and horses through · expose · show in its true light · discredit ·

      Opinions of proven pathological lying anti gun fascists such as those you referenced don’t disprove anyone or anything child, try lying harder ya flaming fascist punk

    • April 25, 2018 at 2:27 PM

      “Debunked by whom?” Good question.

      The comment above from “paul morphy” was actually posted by Evan DeFilippis, a vocal anti-gun scholar. The links he provided as proof that the Kleck study “has been debunked countless times” are actually his own writings.

      We found this out, because several minutes after the comment from “paul morphy” was posted, we received a suspicious note from an email address with “defilippis” in it. This prompted me to trace the IP address of the comment from “paul morphy,” and I found that it originated from the Harvard Business School, where DeFilippis is a Ph.D. candidate.

      I then confronted DeFilippis, and he admitted that he posted this comment using a fake name because “I don’t feel secure giving my email or contact details out on comment forms when I don’t know how those comments are secured on the backend.”

      Our comments section only requires a name and email, so I wrote back to him: “I see the point in using a separate email for a spam filter, why not use your real name? This seems especially odd given that you used the pseudonym to praise your own article as a ‘thorough takedown’ of a peer-reviewed paper.”

      That was about three weeks ago, and he has not responded.

      Note that DeFilippis wrote that pro-gun scholar John Lott is “a fraud” and was “humiliated” when it became public that he had used a pseudonym to praise his own research.

      Both Kleck and Lott have responded to the accusations of DeFilippis:
      Lott Response
      Kleck Response

  • April 2, 2018 at 6:54 PM

    In my family we don’t have to go far to find cases of defensive use of a firearm. My wife used my .44 revolver to cause a peeping Tom to leave our yard. The “peeping Tom / rapist who was prowling our neighborhood of Austin (totally coincidentally I’m sure) took a 6 week vacation and then started up again in another part of the UT campus area. He had been focused on the North of the Campus. After his vacation he came back on the West. My wife and I had only been married a few months.

    Then, 17 years later our oldest children drove off two vicious thugs from our home. The police picked the thugs up a few blocks away, but had to play “catch and release” with them. Later that evening the man who had been repairing the roof next door, and had started making a lot of loud and unusual noises just as the thugs began banging on our door, turned up in the ER. He claimed he had fallen down the stairs. But the ER physician told the Deputy that, unless stairs started wearing boots, he was actually beat, kicked and stomped. The “known associate” under investigation in the rash of break ins then spent 3 days in ICU and more time in the hospital. He refused to press charges, probably from fear of the thugs my children had run off.

    My children are now 43 and 41. Both have Texas weapons carry licenses, as do my wife and I.

    The Sheriff’s sergeant who talked with me about it some months later at our Neighborhood Watch meeting said that the lookout had moved to the opposite side of Harris County, Texas from where he and his associates had been living. He also was “keeping his nose clean.” Near death experience wasn’t wasted on him, it seems. But those two who nearly killed him only changed subdivisions for their continued crime. But, the sergeant said they were keeping a much closer eye on them.

    The sergeant also broke some rules. He told me about some of the crimes as juveniles, including kidnapping a 12 year old girl when they were 14 & 15. The young thugs had stripped the girl naked, tied her spread eagle to their parents bed and repeatedly raped her over three days. (Their parents were both in jail, father for public lewdness and the mother for felony assault. CPS had failed to realize the “poor boys” were left alone until three days after their parents were arrested.)

    So, at 14 & 15 these thug brothers were already serious trouble. What they learned in the juvenile lock up was how to avoid being caught. They became known by the Sheriff’s department as “the Teflon kids.” At the time the were picked up following the attempted break in, they were 22 and 23 and had a long list of arrests but hadn’t had anything stick. That didn’t last much longer. Nearly killing their lookout got their level of surveillance raised a bit.

    • April 2, 2018 at 7:05 PM

      The reason the thugs didn’t get in before my son was able to get the shotgun and rack it was because I had reinforced the door frames and doors of my house. I had used 3.5″ screws to replace the hinge screws, putting those 9 screws on the hinges deep into the 2x4s surrounding the door. I had also added a dead bolt, using 3.5″ screws to secure the strike plate and 2.5″ screws for the lock plate on the door. Then I put the same larger screws in place of the pathetic little screws on the locking door knob. I then had put screws into the door frame above the door and on the lock side of the door opposite the hinges.

      The thugs kicks were hard enough that the screws were bent the door frame cracked and the door cracked. But they didn’t get in before the wonderful sound of a 12 gage pump riot gun being racked gave them the resolve to nearly beat their lookout nearly to death.

      After I was able to unjam the front door, I reinforced the door and frame with light angle iron with more screws. I gave the riot gun as a gift to my son and the handgun his 12 year old sister had been using to back up her brother to her.

      An additional note on “helpless and brainless children with guns” as some have lamented on hearing this story, I started training each of my 4 children on firearms at 3, showing them the destructive power. At 5 I began teaching them to shoot .22 rifles. At 10, handguns. By the time of the attempted break in the older two were more capable than US military who had “Marksman” badges.

      After the break in I had a friend of mine who was with the Houston Police as a councilor for officers who had been in “kill or be killed” situations council my children. He said that he wished his officers were more like my children in their resilience after such a situation.

      • April 17, 2018 at 7:51 AM

        Thank you! Well said and well done.

  • April 22, 2018 at 10:51 PM

    I know you are “Just Facts: but the 1995 study by Gary Gleck has been debunked so many time it is not funny. Nobody has been able to replicate his findings.

    The problem with the argument that “most cases are not reported because nobody was shot” relies on the logic that an incident was significant enough for the victim to feel he needed to threaten lethal force yet at the same time not significant enough to make a police report so others would not be bothered by this bad guy.

    • April 23, 2018 at 8:50 AM

      No, the Kleck and Gertz study has not been “debunked.” As the article documents, it has been praised by anti-gun criminologist Marvin E. Wolfgang. Other anti-gun scholars have criticized the study, and Kleck has answered them.

      Your claim that nobody has been able to replicate the findings is absurd. The article documents that anti-gun researcher David McDowall found practically the same results. Furthermore, the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council found that “almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million.”

      Defensive gun users have good reason to not report the incidents to police: To prevent their arrest and legal quagmires that can result from having to prove they were justified in their actions.

      Regardless of whether defensive gun users report the incidents to police, such data is not fully reported on a national level by any government agency.

        • July 10, 2018 at 7:58 PM

          Actually, Just Facts has published data on how many violent crimes are committed per year, and there’s nothing laughable about it: Based on survey data from the U.S. Department of Justice, roughly 5.9 million violent crimes were committed in the United States during 2014. These include simple/aggravated assaults, robberies, sexual assaults, rapes, and murders.

          Furthermore, as the article documents, multiple studies corroborate the figure of at least 1 million defensive gun uses per year.

  • April 28, 2018 at 9:55 PM

    Great article James! To anybody who wants to prove James wrong, It doesn’t matter. This is a God given right. The 2nd amendment backs this up.
    Thank you James!

  • May 3, 2018 at 2:21 PM

    This article is an EXCELLENT analysis of frequent defensive gun use. Allow me to present a different aspect to consider — a quick study I put together using Texas state government statistics.

    “Texas stats prove that 1.2+ million concealed carry permit holders seldom murder anyone”
    by Richard Rider

    Again and again we hear the usual laments from the uninformed gun haters about concealed carry — how it would transform — DOES transform — a civilized society into the Wild West. You know the mantra — shootouts at fender-benders, bars ablaze with gunfights, etc.

    It’s always fun to inject a dose of reality into such gun haters — it’s toxic to their wellbeing. Here’s a sharp needle-full of facts for your favorite anti-gun friends. They never actually check the empirical results of people legally carrying firearms — that just arrogantly assume that they know what the results are.

    Here’s the updated URL-available stats about the ACTUAL experience of concealed carry weapons (CCW) permit holders in Texas. People pack heat with great frequency in the Lone Star State. About 5.9% of Texas adults have an active permit (paid up) — over 1.2 million adults. The adult (18 and over) population of Texas in July, 2016 was 20,256,000. Only Florida and Pennsylvania issue more permits, though a number of states have a higher ratio of CCW vs. the total population.

    Texas is a “shall issue” state. If you don’t have a criminal record, a restraining order or mental health issues, the state will issue you a concealed carry permit. “Shall issue” states don’t cherry pick who gets to pack heat. These permit holders are “just folks.”

    Turns out that these heat packers are far less likely to shoot someone than the rest of the population. In 2016 there were 218 convictions for murder in Texas. Only 2 were CCW holders. Hence the NON-CCW adults are 6.8 times more likely to commit a murder than a CCW permit holder.

    Moreover, these stats don’t tell us if a firearm was used in the murders, or if the murder occurred outside of the home (most murders by non-criminals occur in the home). Many Texans legally own firearms at home but are not allowed the CCW option. The odds are that a CCW permit had nothing to do with one or both murders by CCW people.

    Here’s more ammo — a link to the official 2016 crime statistics in Texas, comparing the crimes of concealed carry permit holders with the full population. NOTE: For all types of crimes in Texas in 2016, there were 50,869 convictions. CC holders were convicted of 148 of those crimes. Hence CCW holders, who constitute 5.9% of the adult population, committed 0.3458% of the crimes. Stated differently, the general Texas population commits crimes 17 times more often than CCW holders.

    Could this be a one-year statistical aberration? It could be, but it isn’t. Here’s the link to get the annual Texas conviction figures for each year dating back to 1996.

    Here’s two interesting statistics.
    1. Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas each have over 1.2 million CCW holders.
    2. In Florida and Texas (states which track such statistics), these CCW holders are only one-sixth as likely to be convicted of felonies and misdemeanors as police officers!

    But let me be fair — the odds are that such overwhelming empirical evidence is not likely to change a single progressive’s mind. To present such objective facts is to reveal that I’m surely in the employ of dark powers, and probably a racist to boot. This knee-jerk response is embedded deep in the progressive’s DNA — let’s not hold them personally responsible for this biological inability to process facts, or to rebut logical thinking.

    • September 9, 2019 at 5:40 PM

      Every day in Texas is just another day in Paradise.

      And we aim to keep it that way.


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