Gun facts get tangled on the Web

We find it both fascinating and disturbing when we run across questionable information that has worked its way up to gospel truth.

Saturday, we ran a letter to the editor from a reader claiming 192,000 women used a firearm to defend themselves against a sexual assault "last year" according to "the federal report."

This number may be accurate, and the letter writer in fact produced a proposed law titled the "Citizens' Self-Defense Act of 2011" as evidence.

Good enough, we said, and ran the letter with the assertion intact.

But we are always suspicious when facts appear without specific attribution, so we spent some time following this one back to its source.

Let's backtrack:

First, the "federal report" was actually the "Citizens Self-Defense Act of 2011" which was submitted by then Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, R-Maryland.

Bartlett, who was the second oldest member of Congress at 86 in 2011, has a fascinating background: theology student, Ph.D. in human physiology, home builder, scientist, engineer, inventor, dairy farmer and father of 10 children.

And, we should mention, survivalist with a "well-stocked cabin in the hills of West Virginia."

After 10 terms in Congress, Democrats in Maryland gerrymandered his once rural western Maryland district to include thousands of urban voters and he lost his seat.

But that was after he submitted the "Self-Defense" act, which eventually died in committee, but is still alive in government records on the web and says, in part:

"Every year, more than 2,400,000 people in the United States use a gun to defend themselves against criminals — or more than 6,500 people a day. This means that, each year, firearms are used 60 times more often to protect the lives of honest citizens than to take lives."

Of those 2,400,000 self-defense cases, "more than 192,000 are by women defending themselves against sexual abuse."

Again, remarkable statistics that strongly suggest we should all be carrying guns.

But who counts such things?

Nobody, apparently. Police certainly don't, and both Lewiston and Auburn police said such incidents are very rare. Several Lewiston officers could only think of a handful of such gun self-defense reports in 25 years.

But those statistics appear hundreds of times on the Web. Check that, thousands of times.

If you Google the exact phrase "Every year, 2,400 people in the United States use a gun" you will find it has been repeated 11,600 times by various sources on the web — nearly always without attribution.

But, if you dig hard enough, you will unearth a study done by two men, one at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the other at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

That study, published in 2000, attacks as "myth" the claim of 2.5 million defensive gun uses per year, which they attribute to two Florida State University professors, Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz.

In 1992, the pair commissioned a telephone survey of 5,000 American adults and found that about 56 per year reported a DGU (defensive gun use).

They divided that number by about 5,000 respondents, then multiplied by the number of adults in the U.S. at that time, about 200 million, and came up with 2.24 million a year.

So, it is a giant extrapolation based upon 56 affirmative telephone calls.

Critics claim the 5,000 calls is an unreliably small sample and flawed by the tendency of people to make themselves look good. People overly respond to a question in a way that makes them seem admirable, like brave and heroic.

When the critics compared various crime facts, the numbers suggested that the "victim" of an attack would be four times more likely to be armed than the criminal or aggressor, which seems unlikely.

Another widely cited study, the National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted by the Justice Department based on 49,000 to 77,400 calls to households, estimated in 1992 that guns were used for self-defense about 82,000 times a year.

Which means Kleck and Gertz found that about one person in 100 used a gun for defense that year, while the federal figures said it was one in 2,273. Remember, too, that local police can only recall a couple of instances in 25 years.

But the NCVS may also be flawed in that it requires people to give their name and address to a government agent, which may make some people less than candid.

Regardless of the truth, if you took a cursory look at Google results, you wouldn't even know there was any debate about the issue or that the oft-quoted statistic was based on a small survey conducted more than 20 years ago, not a recent "federal report."

We never did find a solid source for 192,000 sexual assaults prevented by women with guns.

There probably is no certain statistic for how many times guns are used defensively, either by men or by women

If you see one, seek the source before you believe it.

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Steve  Dosh's picture

Gun facts get tangled on the Web

Ed. Friday passing through Sanford ƒlori-duh ( Seriously :)
. .† y v m and if you are keeping a gun for your own defense you have a 50 \ 50 chance of it being taken and used against you or some one in your family or some one else in a crime . Fact are facts after all . Grind the numbers off first in case it IS stolen . Hunting ? Use a bow and arrow . Bambi prefers that over an AK-47 . Even eaten lead shot ? That'll crack a tooth ?
Use a knife , mace, pepper spray or a tazer , ladies . Cheaper and less deadly , too :)
/s Steve

Noel Foss's picture

I look forward to the rest of this article

About how gun facts from the other side of the fence get tangled on the web just as much as the facts presented above.
I'll look forward to it, but I'm not holding my breath for it.

David Heikkinen's picture

Gun facts get tangled on the web

Ronald, I am sooooooo sorry. He did say "more guns, more violence, no coincidence. In that editorial he had a lot of opinions and very little documentation of facts. I would say some of his facts were tangled. In this editorial he looked at questionable studies and I did say some of the points made in this editorial are valid. I am not sure what point you are trying to make, but YES the missionaries did teach me readin, ritin and rithmatic well enough that I happen to be an engineering school graduate and a former Naval officer.

RONALD RIML's picture

Aren't those Missionaries Nice.....

Did you make it to Subic Bay for special blessings????

 's picture

Excellent editorial

As I've written before; I'm waiting for a current, scientific, peer-reviewed study that answers specific questions and offers optional analysis. So far I trust no data presented on either side. For precisely the types of problems the editorial and Ron Riml present. They also have to treat different guns differently.
But that really only produces a single problem we can't answer whether on balance guns are beneficial or harmful to society. That's not a question we have to answer. 20 dead 6 and 7 year-olds are all the answer that's necessary and if that isn't enough then 30,000 deaths a year must be. The cost in human lives of unlimited gun ownership without a workable system to qualify responsible owners is no longer acceptable.

RONALD RIML's picture

There are many studies.

Gun Threats and Self-Defense Gun Use - Harvard Injury Control Research Center

1-3 Guns are not used millions of times each year in self-defense
We use epidemiological theory to explain why the “false positive” problem for rare events can lead to large overestimates of the incidence of rare diseases or rare phenomena such as self-defense gun use. We then try to validate the claims of many millions of annual self-defense uses against available evidence. We find that the claim of many millions of annual self-defense gun uses by American citizens is invalid.

Hemenway, David. Survey research and self-defense gun use: An explanation of extreme overestimates. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. 1997; 87:1430-1445.

Hemenway, David. The myth of millions of annual self-defense gun uses: A case study of survey overestimates of rare events. Chance (American Statistical Association). 1997; 10:6-10.

Cook, Philip J; Ludwig, Jens; Hemenway, David. The gun debate’s new mythical number: How many defensive uses per year? Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. 1997; 16:463-469.

4. Most purported self-defense gun uses are gun uses in escalating arguments and are both socially undesirable and illegal

We analyzed data from two national random-digit-dial surveys conducted under the auspices of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. Criminal court judges who read the self-reported accounts of the purported self-defense gun use rated a majority as being illegal, even assuming that the respondent had a permit to own and to carry a gun, and that the respondent had described the event honestly from his own perspective.

Hemenway, David; Miller, Matthew; Azrael, Deborah. Gun use in the United States: Results from two national surveys. Injury Prevention. 2000; 6:263-267.

5. Firearms are used far more often to intimidate than in self-defense.

Using data from a national random-digit-dial telephone survey conducted under the direction of the Harvard Injury Control Center, we examined the extent and nature of offensive gun use. We found that firearms are used far more often to frighten and intimidate than they are used in self-defense. All reported cases of criminal gun use, as well as many of the so-called self-defense gun uses, appear to be socially undesirable.

Hemenway, David; Azrael, Deborah. The relative frequency of offensive and defensive gun use: Results of a national survey. Violence and Victims. 2000; 15:257-272.

6. Guns in the home are used more often to intimidate intimates than to thwart crime.

Using data from a national random-digit-dial telephone survey conducted under the direction of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, we investigated how and when guns are used in the home. We found that guns in the home are used more often to frighten intimates than to thwart crime; other weapons are far more commonly used against intruders than are guns.

Publication: Azrael, Deborah R; Hemenway, David. In the safety of your own home: Results from a national survey of gun use at home. Social Science and Medicine. 2000; 50:285-91.

7. Adolescents are far more likely to be threatened with a gun than to use one in self-defense.

We analyzed data from a telephone survey of 5,800 California adolescents aged 12-17, which asked questions about gun threats against, and self-defense gun use by these young people. We found that these young people were far more likely to be threatened with a gun than to use a gun in self-defense, and most of the reported self-defense gun uses were hostile interactions between armed adolescents. Males, smokers, binge drinkers, those who threatened others and whose parents were less likely to know their whereabouts were more likely both to be threatened with a gun and to use a gun in self-defense.

Hemenway, David; Miller, Matthew. Gun threats against and self-defense gun use by California adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 2004; 158:395-400.

8. Criminals who are shot are typically the victims of crime

Using data from a survey of detainees in a Washington D.C. jail, we worked with a prison physician to investigate the circumstances of gunshot wounds to these criminals.
We found that one in four of these detainees had been wounded, in events that appear unrelated to their incarceration. Most were shot when they were victims of robberies, assaults and crossfires. Virtually none report being wounded by a “law-abiding citizen.”

May, John P; Hemenway, David. Oen, Roger; Pitts, Khalid R. When criminals are shot: A survey of Washington DC jail detainees. Medscape General Medicine. 2000; June 28.

9-10. Few criminals are shot by decent law abiding citizens

Using data from surveys of detainees in six jails from around the nation, we worked with a prison physician to determine whether criminals seek hospital medical care when they are shot. Criminals almost always go to the hospital when they are shot. To believe fully the claims of millions of self-defense gun uses each year would mean believing that decent law-abiding citizens shot hundreds of thousands of criminals. But the data from emergency departments belie this claim, unless hundreds of thousands of wounded criminals are afraid to seek medical care. But virtually all criminals who have been shot went to the hospital, and can describe in detail what happened there.

May, John P; Hemenway, David. Oen, Roger; Pitts, Khalid R. Medical Care Solicitation by Criminals with Gunshot Wound Injuries: A Survey of Washington DC Jail Detainees. Journal of Trauma. 2000; 48:130-132.

May, John P; Hemenway, David. Do Criminals Go to the Hospital When They are Shot? Injury Prevention 2002: 8:236-238.

Good Points

These are very good points, however I just have to say for the same reason I dispute what gun advocates put out, most of that data is likely at least a decade old and done mostly by surveys or by data that doesn't conform to all states as to how things are reported or filed. Surveys are fine for elections but not for gun issues. I have books on both sides of the coin and it's obvious that the true facts just aren't available but, I have to lean towards what Ron lists. Realistically it just makes sense if you read it with an open mind, not like the same old statements over and over from most fire-breathin' 2nd amendmenters. What's needed is to do what was done for cars and booze and you know what? Neither cars nor booze were banned! And ...... things got much much better. Those are the facts and something everyone should push for. NRA ..... get out of the way! Or are you afraid that what is listed is more of a reality?
Ron, you and I are STILL on the same page.

RONALD RIML's picture

Truth be known -

Ron used to be a 'Gun Nutter' - There's no Evangelist like the 'converted'

Truer words never more spoken!

We have one in the family, religious type, and then there's me, converted smoker. I used to be awful at times.
Glad to hear you're a "used to be". Seeing things from both sides is so important in gun discussions.

Noel Foss's picture

That gave me a chuckle

Judging by most of his postings, Ron hasn't seen things from the other side for quite a while. Kind of like a game of Crack the Whip; he was on one side when he let go, and it catapulted him very far to the opposite side indeed.

RONALD RIML's picture

I haven't seen any shooting victims in over twenty years.

Yet my distaste for guns was formed when I saw the all the unnecessary death and injuries they wrought.

Chuckle away, Tire Salesman.....

Noel Foss's picture

20 years is quite a while.

Though it's probably not long enough, to be sure.
But as somebody with in-depth experience with firearms, as you've stated yourself many times, it's a surprising (dare I say interesting?) viewpoint you've developed. Most of the ex-cops I know (and the current ones too, come to that) are more than supportive if individual firearms rights, and typically they're against increased legislation on law-abiding citizens. They also usually advocate harsher punishments for the people who DO break the laws, and support actually enforcing the plethora of laws already on the books. But, I suppose Twain said it best:
"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect"

Amusingly, I don't remember ever telling you I sold tires for a living. Have you been stalking me, Ron? That's right up there in "creepy old man" territory!

RONALD RIML's picture

That's right down there with

"Stupid Young Man" Territory.....

RONALD RIML's picture

You don't expect cops to be curious?

But you expect them all to be conservatives and gun people??

My - isn't someone an uninformed stereo-typer.....

Noel Foss's picture

there you go with that conclusion-jumping again

and as usual, you're wrong. I said MOST cops, Ron. Not all.
And cops who aren't curious, nosy, and inquisitive aren't much good, are they?
But, I see you've dissolved back to insults.
So, I'm done with you for the night.

RONALD RIML's picture

So you know 'Most Cops'....

A real 'Groupie' - eh, Noel. It must be the leather that turns you on.......

Noel Foss's picture

Must be time to see your eye doc, Ron.

Again, you need to actually READ what somebody says before you try insulting them.
"Most of the ex-cops I know (and the current ones too, come to that)"
Reflecting on personal experience.
I thought cops were supposed to pay attention to things like that...

RONALD RIML's picture

It's what you insinuate.....

Because it's obvious you're not thinking......

Noel Foss's picture

I don't recall insinuating anything

I was simply stating that, based on what you yourself have said, it appears that you have a very strong dislike for guns and for the people who own them, despite having a background that's heavily involved with them. I also pointed out that most of the cops that I know have an opposite viewpoint. I think that's interesting, is all. So, why don't you fill me in on what you think I'm insinuating, and I'll try to clarify it for you.
And if you can do it without gratuitous insults, that'd be great.

RONALD RIML's picture

I've seen what guns do to people - both victims and shooters.

I was a cop in a rather small town in Illinois, 27,000 population - if you check my 'Facebook Page' as I did yours to run across your employer (that's stalking? - you put it out there) you would discover it is Kankakee, IL. If you googled 'Kankakee' and 'Murder' you would find on the first page of results that Kankakee had 22 homicides in 1994. - the year after I left. Now they're finally down to 2. In 94 that was a homicide rate of 81.5/100,000 population. Chicago had 532 homicides in 2012 - a rate of 19.7/100,000 for a population of 2,695,598 - quarter of ours. Are you beginning to get the picture yet???

For comparison, the 2011 homicide rate in Maine was 2.0 per 100/000 population.

Maine is generally the safest of all 50 states; 123.2 felonious assaults per 100,000 population. The national average is three times that - at 386.3.* So we're three times safer that the average citizen.

Besides the homicides - there were also all the shooting victims that survived - in addition to the suicides by gunshot. Beginning to get the picture yet??? And people just 'playing with guns.' I've been to a lot of shootings before victims went to the ER (dead or alive) and I simply found few worth it.

So is it becoming a bit clearer now why my attitude toward firearms may not be what your's is?

I certainly have no issue with folks wishing to possess firearms for sport, home protection, collecting, what-have-you. I am completely baffled by the what appears to be an overwhelming need among certain segments of the population to 'Carry Concealed' given the statistical fact that Maine is one of the safest states in the country. Folks simply aren't attacked anywhere near the extent to which they are in other parts of the country - yet beat the drum of 'Self-Defense' as loudly as I've ever heard it. There is a real disconnect going on. In my opinion, there are some real psychological under-pinnings to this - and God knows in Law Enforcement we had to become amateur psychologists.

I also noticed another aspect concerning Law Enforcement in Maine - and that was recently covered by a series of articles by the Portland Press Herald: the greater likelihood that Maine Law Enforcement would utilize deadly force during armed stand-offs - quite often with mental subjects, than I had experienced. I had researched as far back as 1998.

Essentially, we acquired much more experience during shorter periods of time due to accelerated levels of activity. It was a 'Freakin' Madhouse' - or at least became so after the State de-institutionalized thousands of patients (inmates) from two 'State Hospitals) within ten miles of our city. The other blow was the closing/relocation of several large manufacturing plants - and their many thousands of jobs leaving the area. The housing stock was dealt a blow, 'Slum-Lord' agencies bought property by the blocks, and part of Chicago moved on down to escape problems - merely bringing their own. I can understand CCW in that environment. Maine - not quite so much.

I still have friends there - one retired cop even moved out to Boothbay - his wife couldn't handle being so far from 'Box Stores' - and insisted they move back. Crazy....

But I planned to Move to Maine years before things went to shit. I first visited here in '65 - perhaps before you were born - and have loved it ever since.

Noel Foss's picture

Sounds like a pretty crappy town to live in.

Stuck right below what I imagine is a pretty crappy city to live in. Especially while you were there. I'm sure that being a cop in that town was unpleasant at times, especially given (from what I've read) the corruption that was so prevalent in law enforcement in that area at that time.
However, as you say, Maine's a totally different kettle of fish. It's why I haven't chosen to follow classmates out of state for higher-paying positions with lower quality of life. I love the outdoors too much to live in a city. And I assume you've had enough of them as well, since you've chosen to become a book-selling vagabond on the coast. But moving here because you love it and then criticizing what the residents choose to do is akin to buying land next to a scenic farm and then criticizing the farmer for spreading fertilizer. Maine has very permissive gun laws, and a very low crime rate. Illinois (and particularly Chicago) has much more restrictive laws, and a much higher crime rate. Perhaps they're related, perhaps not.
There's lots of reasons for applying for a CCW Permit, as I'm sure you're aware. Some people have them because they live in dangerous parts of town (I know, where you're from is MUCH worse, but it's all relative), or because they work retail and their employer requires that they bring large quantities of cash to the bank for deposit after dark. Or maybe it's because they've been threatened, robbed, raped, or intimidated in the past. Or perhaps they've seen the increase in crime in the state in recent years and, in the manner of self-reliance, chosen to do something for themselves about it. Point being, just as I haven't lived your life, you haven't lived theirs. Just because you don't think it's necessary or appropriate doesn't mean they don't. And if the state didn't think it was appropriate, there wouldn't be any concealed permits.
I don't own an AR-15, and I don't intend to buy one. But I don't think they should be banned just because I personally don't want one. And I certainly don't think that a list of who does own them should be available to the general public. On those aspects we may disagree, but it certainly doesn't mean one of us is right, or that the other's wrong.
And thank you for citing your source.

RONALD RIML's picture

Being a Cop is what you make of it.

Folks get into the job for all sorts of different reasons - and not all of them really last. There are those who want to "Clean up Dodge" and then find out Dodge is going to eventually "Clean their Clock" - others want to help people, and discover that the ones they want to help have absolutely no interest in getting help, others thrive for excitement and find that's a rare commodity hidden within long stretches of tedium and boredom. It tends to have a high 'turn-over' rate when other jobs are available; not exactly great for family life.

Actually there was surprisingly little corruption in police work in the area - too many people knew too many things in too small a community; but Kankakee itself was no stranger to political corruption. Google "Governor Small Illinois" - being Governor during prohibition was extremely lucrative for him. Earlier, when State Treasurer, he created his own 'paper bank' in which he placed all state funds, which he manipulated at high interest keeping for himself. Nice - Home Town -Boy.

I knew tickets were being pulled under the Mayor Ryan(R), we were taxiing politically-connected pols to Chicago in unmarked police cars, and other favors were being done, and unqualified political hacks were promoted.. When the (D's) came in all that stopped. My old Chief of Police became Inspector General to the Secretary of State - George Ryan - brother of our ex-Mayor. George was using the SOS office to amass a campaign chest to run for the Governor's Mansion. And in Illinois - that was a Gold Mine. It eventually came crashing down after an unqualified truck driver who'd bribed an SOS employee for a license was instrumental in the fiery deaths of six children. It was called Operation Safe Road My old Chief of Police and the Mayor's brother both wound up in Federal Prison. The corruption was at the very top.

More later.....

A lot in common ...

My reason for getting involved in gun violence is the same concern - concealed carry's - and you've echod my reasoning's precisely as my town is seeing an uptick, just like others. There's this propaganda sweeping the nation that every town is like a big city with no law enforcement to be had. Case in point is Sabattus and now Byron and I'm sure there's more coming. The concern I have is all these CCP's running around with the idea of protecting themselves and people around them. These people without anything close to resembling law enforcement training. A "right" that could go very wrong. Home defense, however, is up to the homeowner.
Many of us are transplants and my guess is we'd like to keep it as we found it, which is why we came here. I sure would.

Jason Theriault's picture

The internet is a den of lies.

Just google "Glenn Back 1990"

Jason Theriault's picture


"Glenn Beck 1990"

ERNEST LABBE's picture

The simple truth is

The simple truth is figures lie and liers figure.

RONALD RIML's picture

Ernest - You wouldn't recognize the 'Simple Truth' as it's not


Excellent article!

Information like this is what's needed to educate to population as to what has been "created". You can add another person, John Lott Jr., who wrote "More Guns Less Crime", to the list of "sources" that profess to have what they call facts. It's a self feeding web of theoretical numbers that is very difficult to dispute, and it's intentional. The NRA knew years ago that any important facts regarding guns and gun violence would be detrimental to their mission so they made sure policies were in place to prevent any study to create a database on gun violence. After that John Lott Jr. conveniently wrote his book which, for the gun advocate, helped fuel the theoretical "facts" that now spin around the country/world. Mostly based on surveys, incomplete sources and old data. It's a known fact that economists are great with numbers, and it's also known they're able to skew the numbers. Coupling that without any real reliable national database to base anything on, the NRA got a head start with the "numbers" because no one was really paying attention. Many are now and it's time to catch up and see whether these myths are in fact real. To add to the "myth" that 2.4 mil defend themselves, it's said that most gun advocates would rather NOT give that info out for fear of people knowing they have a gun. The 2.4 just might be 3 or 3.4 mil because of unreported events? Let's get real.
Both sides know that research on gun violence is a good place to start but, only one side of the issue wants that. Ask yourself "I wonder why"? If someone tells you they're afraid they'll have their guns taken away, they have no concern for society's safety, as a whole. We need facts, not myths.

David Heikkinen's picture

Gun facts get tangled on the web

Mr Rhoades should take some of his own advice. His editorial about a month ago stating that more guns equals more crime had no merit in fact. FBI statistics have shown that violent gun crime has come down as gun ownership has increased over the last 20 years. Obviously one cannot believe everything they read on the web, but hopefully FBI statistics are based on fact. I believe some of the points made in this article are valid and I agree "There probably is no certain statistic for how many times guns are used defensively, either by men or women" , but if the bad guys are breaking into your house in the middle of the night would you rather cower under the bed or defend yourself and family with a weapon?

RONALD RIML's picture

Obviously you misinterpreted what was written.

Here's the link. More guns more violence, no coincidence

David - I just searched for your name among the many, many comments. I see you didn't post any. And now you're complaining?

Rex Rhoades did not claim "More guns equals more crime" - Those are your words - not his. Read what he actually said. Didn't the Missionaries come aboard your ship to teach you how to read?? You needed some grizzled old CPO to keep you from getting yourself in trouble....

RONALD RIML's picture

David - How about providing a link to that editorial

Then we can read that statement......

FBI and Violent Crime

Statistics show violent crime is down. Whether or not it's because of more gun ownership is disputable. Until I see facts bearing that out I believe it could be due to a coincidence of many things. One being law enforcement doing better, neighborhoods doing better and religious groups becoming more involved. These areas aren't able to be taken into consideration. To say gun violence is down is because of more guns is just not valid. You can't base that on just the FBI, there's many other agencies and other factors involved. There is no way, at this time, to validate anything regarding gun violence as it relates to more guns or less.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Neither can you dismiss it!

Neither can you dismiss it!

I can.

Until something says otherwise.

RONALD RIML's picture

Good Editorial, Rex...

You can add me to the number of career cops who can rarely recall incidences of ladies using guns to defend themselves against attack (sexual or otherwise) - but I certainly remember a few times when a woman used a firearm to take a shot or two at a cheating boyfriend or spouse, putting him in the hospital or the ground. Perhaps my city was a little wilder than Lewiston.


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