- Gary Kleck, Ph.D. is a professor in the School of Criminology
and Criminal Justice at Florida State University in Tallahassee and author
of "Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America" (Aldine de Gruyter,
1991), a book widely cited in the national gun-control debate. In an exclusive
interview, Dr. Kleck revealed some preliminary results of the National
Self- Defense Survey which he and his colleague Dr. Marc Gertz conducted
in Spring, 1993. Though he stresses that the results of the survey are
preliminary and subject to future revision, Kleck is satisfied that the
survey's results confirm his analysis of previous surveys which show that
American civilians commonly use their privately-owned firearms to defend
themselves against criminal attacks, and that such defensive uses significantly
outnumber the criminal uses of firearms in America. The new survey, conducted
by random telephone sampling of 4,978 households in all the states except
Alaska and Hawaii, yield results indicating that American civilians use
their firearms as often as 2.5 million times every year defending against
a confrontation with a criminal, and that handguns alone account for up
to 1.9 million defenses per year. Previous surveys, in Kleck's analysis,
had underrepresented the extent of private firearms defenses because the
questions asked failed to account for the possibility that a particular
respondent might have had to use his or her firearm more than once.
- Dr. Kleck will first present his survey results at an
upcoming meeting of the American Society of Criminology, but he agreed
to discuss his preliminary analysis, even though it is uncustomary to do
so in advance of complete peer review, because of the great extent which
his earlier work is being quoted in public debates on firearms public policy.
- The interview was conducted September 14-17, 1993 by
J. Neil Schulman, a novelist, screenwriter, and journalist who has written
extensively on firearms public policy for several years.
- Readers may be interested to know that Kleck is a member
of the ACLU, Amnesty International USA, and Common Cause, among other politically
liberal organizations. He is also a lifelong registered Democrat. He is
not and has never been a member of or contributor to the NRA, Handgun Control
Inc., or any other advocacy group on either side of the gun-control issue,
nor has he received funding for research from any such organization.
- SCHULMAN: Dr. Kleck, can you tell me generally what was
discovered in your recent survey that wasn't previously known?
- KLECK: Well, the survey mostly generated results pretty
consistent with those of a dozen previous surveys which generally indicates
that defensive use of guns is pretty common and probably more common than
criminal uses of guns. This survey went beyond previous ones in that it
provided detail about how often people who had used a gun had done so.
We asked people was the gun used defensively in the past five years and
if so how many times did that happen and we asked details about what exactly
happened. We nailed down that each use being reported was a bona fide defensive
use against a human being in connection with a crime where there was an
actual confrontation between victim and offender. Previous surveys were
a little hazy on the details of exactly what was being reported as a defensive
gun use. It wasn't, for example, clear that the respondents weren't reporting
investigating a suspicious noise in their back yard with a gun where there
was, in fact, nobody there. Our results ended up indicating, depending
on which figures you prefer to use, anywhere from 800,000 on up to 2.4,
2.5 million defensive uses of guns against human beings -- not against
animals -- by civilians each year.
- SCHULMAN: Okay. Let's see if we can pin down some of
these figures. I understand you asked questions having to do with just
the previous one year. Is that correct?
- KLECK: That's correct. We asked both for recollections
about the preceding five years and for just what happened in the previous
one year, the idea being that people would be able to remember more completely
what had happened just in the past year.
- SCHULMAN: And your figures reflect this?
- KLECK: Yes. The estimates are considerably higher if
they're based on people's presumably more-complete recollection of just
what happened in the previous year.
- SCHULMAN: Okay. So you've given us the definition of
what a "defense" is. It has to be an actual confrontation against
a human being attempting a crime? Is that correct?
- KLECK: Correct.
- SCHULMAN: And it excludes all police, security guards,
and military personnel?
- KLECK: That's correct.
- SCHULMAN: Okay. Let's ask the "one year" question
since you say that's based on better recollections. In the last year how
many people who responded to the questionnaire said that they had used
a firearm to defend themselves against an actual confrontation from a human
being attempting a crime?
- KLECK: Well, as a percentage it's 1.33 percent of the
respondents. When you extrapolate that to the general population, it works
out to be 2.4 million defensive uses of guns of some kind -- not just handguns
but any kind of a gun -- within that previous year, which would have been
roughly from Spring of 1992 through Spring of 1993.
- SCHULMAN: And if you focus solely on handguns?
- KLECK: It's about 1.9 million, based on personal, individual
- SCHULMAN: And what percentage of the respondents is that?
- KLECK: That would be 1.03 percent.
- SCHULMAN: How many respondents did you have total?
- KLECK: We had a total of 4,978 completed interviews,
that is, where we had a response on the key question of whether or not
there had been a defensive gun use.
- SCHULMAN: So roughly 50 people out of 5000 responded
that in the last year they had had to use their firearms in an actual confrontation
against a human being attempting a crime?
- KLECK: Handguns, yes.
- SCHULMAN: Had used a handgun. And slightly more than
that had used any gun.
- KLECK: Right.
- SCHULMAN: So that would be maybe 55, 56 people?
- KLECK: Something like that, yeah.
- SCHULMAN: Okay. I can just hear critics saying that 50
or 55 people responding that they used their gun and you're projecting
it out to figures of around 2 million, 2-1/2 million gun defenses. Why
is that statistically valid?
- KLECK: Well, that's one reason why we also had a five-year
recollection period. We get a much larger raw number of people saying,
"Yes, I had a defensive use." It doesn't work out to be as many
per year because people are presumably not remembering as completely, but
the raw numbers of people who remember some kind of defensive use over
the previous five years, that worked out to be on the order of 200 sample
cases. So it's really a small raw number only if you limit your attention
to those who are reporting an incident just in the previous year. Statistically,
it's strictly the raw numbers that are relevant to the issue.
- SCHULMAN: So if between 1 percent to 1-1/3 percent of
your respondents are saying that they defended themselves with a gun, how
does this compare, for example, to the number of people who would respond
that they had suffered from a crime during that period?
- KLECK: I really couldn't say. We didn't ask that and
I don't think there are really any comparable figures. You could look at
the National Crime Surveys for relatively recent years and I guess you
could take the share of the population that had been the victims of some
kind of violent crime because most of these apparently are responses to
violent crimes. Ummm, let's see. The latest year for which I have any data,
1991, would be about 9 percent of the population had suffered a personal
crime -- that's a crime with personal contact. And so, to say that 1 percent
of the population had defended themselves with a handgun is obviously still
well within what you would expect based on the share of the population
that had suffered a personal crime of some kind. Plus a number of these
defensive uses were against burglars, which isn't considered a personal
crime according to the National Crime Survey. But you can add in maybe
another 5 percent who'd been a victim of a household burglary.
- SCHULMAN: Let's break down some of these gun defenses
if we can. How many are against armed robbers? How many are against burglars?
How many are against people committing a rape or an assault?
- KLECK: About 8 percent of the defensive uses involved
a sexual crime such as an attempted sexual assault. About 29 percent involved
some sort of assault other than sexual assault. Thirty-three percent involved
a burglary or some other theft at home. Twenty-two percent involved robbery.
Sixteen percent involved trespassing. Note that some incidents could involve
more than one crime.
- SCHULMAN: Do you have a breakdown of how many occurred
on somebody's property and how many occurred, let's say, off somebody's
property where somebody would have had to have been carrying a gun with
them on their person or in their car?
- KLECK: Yes. We asked where the incident took place. Seventy-two
percent took place in or near the home, where the gun wouldn't have to
be "carried" in a legal sense. And then some of the remainder,
maybe another 4 percent, occurred in a friend's home where that might not
necessarily involve carrying. Also, some of these incidents may have occurred
in a vehicle in a parking lot and that's another 4 percent or so. So some
of those incidents may have involved a less-regulated kind of carrying.
In many states, for example, it doesn't require a license to carry a gun
in your vehicle so I'd say that the share that involved carrying in a legal
sense is probably less than a quarter of the incidents. I won't commit
myself to anything more than that because we don't have the specifics of
whether or not some of these away-from-home incidents occurred while a
person was in a car.
- SCHULMAN: All right. Well, does that mean that approximately
a half million times a year somebody carrying a gun away from home uses
it to defend himself or herself?
- KLECK: That's what it would imply, yes.
- SCHULMAN: All right. As many as one-half million times
every year somebody carrying a gun away from home defends himself or herself.
- KLECK: Yes, about that. It could be as high as that.
I have many different estimates and some of the estimates are deliberately
more conservative in that they exclude from our sample any cases where
it was not absolutely clear that there was a genuine defensive gun use
- SCHULMAN: Were any of these gun uses done by anyone under
the age of 21 or under the age of 18?
- KLECK: Well we don't have any coverage of persons under
the age of 18. Like most national surveys we cover only adults age 18 and
- SCHULMAN: Did you have any between the ages of 18 and
- KLECK: I haven't analyzed the cross tabulation of age
with defensive gun use so I couldn't say at this point.
- SCHULMAN: Okay. Was this survey representative just of
Florida or is it representative of the entire United States?
- KLECK: It's representative of the lower 48 states.
- SCHULMAN: And that means that there was calling throughout
all the different states?
- KLECK: Yes, except Alaska and Hawaii, and that's also
standard practice for national surveys; because of the expense they usually
- SCHULMAN: How do these surveys make their choices, for
example, between high-crime urban areas and less-crime rural areas?
- KLECK: Well, there isn't a choice made in that sense.
It's a telephone survey and the telephone numbers are randomly chosen by
computer so that it works out that every residential telephone number in
the lower 48 states had an equal chance of being picked, except that we
deliberately oversampled from the South and the West and then adjusted
after the fact for that overrepresentation. It results in no biasing. The
results are representative of the entire United States, but it yields a
larger number of sample cases of defensive gun uses. They are, however,
weighted back down so that they properly represent the correct percent
of the population that's had a defensive gun use.
- SCHULMAN: Why is it that the results of your survey are
so counter-intuitive compared to police experience?
- KLECK: For starters, there are substantial reasons for
people not to report defensive gun uses to the police or, for that matter,
even to interviewers working for researchers like me -- the reason simply
being that a lot of the times people either don't know whether their defensive
act was legal or even if they think that was legal, they're not sure that
possessing a gun at that particular place and time was legal. They may
have a gun that's supposed to be registered and it's not or maybe it's
totally legally owned but they're not supposed to be walking around on
the streets with it.
- SCHULMAN: Did your survey ask the question of whether
people carrying guns had licenses to do so?
- KLECK: No, we did not. We thought that would be way too
sensitive a question to ask people.
- SCHULMAN: Okay. Let's talk about how the guns were actually
used in order to accomplish the defense. How many people, for example,
had to merely show the gun, as opposed to how many had to fire a warning
shot, as to how many actually had to attempt to shoot or shoot their attacker?
- KLECK: We got all of the details about everything that
people could have done with a gun from as mild an action as merely verbally
referring to the gun on up to actually shooting somebody.
- SCHULMAN: Could you give me the percentages?
- KLECK: Yes. You have to keep in mind that it's quite
possible for people to have done more than one of these things since they
could obviously both verbally refer to the gun and point it at somebody
or even shoot it.
- SCHULMAN: Okay.
- KLECK: Fifty-four percent of the defensive gun uses involved
somebody verbally referring to the gun. Forty-seven percent involved the
gun being pointed at the criminal. Twenty-two percent involved the gun
being fired. Fourteen percent involved the gun being fired at somebody,
meaning it wasn't just a warning shot; the defender was trying to shoot
the criminal. Whether they succeeded or not is another matter but they
were trying to shoot a criminal. And then in 8 percent they actually did
wound or kill the offender.
- SCHULMAN: In 8 percent, wounded or killed. You don't
have it broken down beyond that?
- KLECK: Wound versus kill? No. Again that was thought
to be too sensitive a question. Although we did have, I think, two people
who freely offered the information that they had, indeed, killed someone.
Keep in mind that the 8 percent figure is based on so few cases that you
have to interpret it with great caution.
- SCHULMAN: Did anybody respond to a question asking whether
they had used the gun and it was found afterward to be unjustified?
- KLECK: We did not ask them that question although we
did ask them what crime they thought was being committed. So in each case
the only incidents we were accepting as bona fide defensive gun uses were
ones where the defender believed that, indeed, a crime had been committed
- SCHULMAN: Did you ask any follow-up questions about how
many people had been arrested or captured as a result of their actions?
- KLECK: No.
- SCHULMAN: Did you ask any questions about aid in law
enforcement, such as somebody helps a police officer who's not themselves
- KLECK: No. I imagine that would be far too rare an incident
to get any meaningful information out of it. Highly unlikely that any significant
share of these involved assisting law enforcement.
- SCHULMAN: The question which this all comes down to is
that we already have some idea, for example from surveys on CCW license
holders, how rare it is for a CCW holder to misuse their gun in a way to
injure somebody improperly. But does this give us any idea of what the
percentages are of people who carry a gun having to use it in order to
defend himself or herself? In other words, comparing the percentage of
defending yourself to the percentage of being attacked, does this tell
- KLECK: We asked them whether they carried guns at any
time but we didn't directly ask them if they were carrying guns, in the
legal sense, at the time they had used their gun defensively. So we can
probably say what fraction of gun carriers in our sample had used a gun
defensively but we can't say whether they did it while carrying. They may,
for example, have been people who at least occasionally carried a gun for
protection but they used a gun defensively in their own home.
- SCHULMAN: So what percentage of gun carriers used it
- KLECK: I haven't calculated it yet so I couldn't say.
- SCHULMAN: So if we assume, let's say, that every year
approximately 9 percent of people are going to be attacked, and approximately
every year that 1 percent of respondents used their guns to defend against
an attack, is it fair to say that around one out of nine people attacked
used their guns to defend themselves?
- KLECK: That "risk of being attacked" shouldn't
be phrased that way. It's the risk of being the victim of a personal crime.
In other words, it involved interpersonal contact. That could be something
like a nonviolent crime like purse snatching or pickpocketing as well.
The fact that personal contact is involved means there's an opportunity
to defend against it using a gun; it doesn't necessarily mean there was
an attack on the victim.
- SCHULMAN: Did you get any data on how the attackers were
armed during these incidents?
- KLECK: Yes. We also asked whether the offender was armed.
The offender was armed in 47.2 percent of the cases and they had a handgun
in about 13.6 percent of all the cases and some other kind of gun in 4.5
percent of all the cases.
- SCHULMAN: So in other words, in about a sixth of the
cases, the person attacking was armed with a firearm.
- KLECK: That's correct.
- SCHULMAN: Okay. And the remainder?
- KLECK: Armed with a knife: 18.1 percent, 2 percent with
some other sharp object, 10.1 percent with a blunt object, and 6 percent
with some other weapon. Keep in mind when adding this up that offenders
could have had more than one weapon.
- SCHULMAN: So in approximately five sixths of the cases
somebody carrying a gun for defensive reasons would find themselves defending
themselves either against an unarmed attacker or an attacker with a lesser
- KLECK: Right. About five-sixths of the time.
- SCHULMAN: And about one-sixth of the time they would
find themselves up against somebody who's armed with a firearm.
- KLECK: Well, certainly in this sample of incidents that
was the case.
- SCHULMAN: Which you believe is representative.
- KLECK: It's representative of what's happened in the
last five years. Whether or not it would be true in the future we couldn't
say for sure.
- SCHULMAN: Are there any other results coming out of this
which are surprising to you?
- KLECK: About the only thing which was surprising is how
often people had actually wounded someone in the incident. Previous surveys
didn't have very many sample cases so you couldn't get into the details
much but some evidence had suggested that a relatively small share of incidents
involved the gun inflicting wounds so it was surprising to me that quite
so many defenders had used a gun that way.
- SCHULMAN: Dr. Kleck, is there anything else you'd like
to say at this time about the results of your survey and your continuing
analysis of them?
- KLECK: Nope.
- SCHULMAN: Then thank you very much.
- KLECK: You're welcome.
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- J. Neil Schulman
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