Defensive Gun Use and the Need to Debate on the Offensive


I think too often gun-rights advocates are on defensive rhetorical ground- “What possible need could one have for an assault weapon? Is hunting and and the fantasy of protecting one’s family from criminals or a tyrannical government worth the actual cost measured in children’s lives?”

And advocates fall into this trap, explaining through appeals to liberty and property rights (and more generally citations of negative rights) why gun-rights are important. This obviously places gun-control advocates on higher strategic grounds - all they must do is prove their newest restriction does not violate those negative rights too much, or that the positive their restrictions deliver (usually measured in pathetic [adj. pathos, but I’ll take the double-meaning] appeals measured in children’s lives) outweigh the restrictions against the gun-owners negative rights.

I think we should take the offensive more often, and cite the positive benefits of gun-ownership and gun-rights, such as defensive gun use. Even if it is hard to measure the exact quantity of lives saved, it seems uncontroversial that this is a major benefit.


I agree with you on this, but the approach rings hollow to someone operating in a frame of “all killing is bad”. I think the idea that gun ownership confers ANY benefit is more controversial than you realize, at least in my circles.


I think the best resource we have in this realm is the Obama-era CDC study that estimated the number of defensive uses at 500k to 3 million annually.


Great point. Estimates on DGUs vary massively, and it’s one of those things that’s probably impossible to measure precisely. But as an absolute lower bound, it’s worth mentioning that even the Violence Policy Center, one of the most vocal gun control groups in the country, estimates 94,900 DGUs per year. The truth almost certainly lies between that and the higher estimates from other groups. But even if it didn’t, and one accepts that the VPCs number is exactly correct, ~95k DGUs per year is, as @adaboost said, a hugely important thing that nobody is talking about.

Data on page 8 of this PDF:


I see a steady stream of these DGU stories from gun-related media accounts on Twitter, but they never ever show up from more mainstream press accounts. But yeah, raising awareness of DGUs is one of those ongoing struggles. It’s something we should be thinking of ways to do on this site.

Related: we should add any DGU studies to this thread: Gun policy library

I need to clean up the first post there so it’s more than just a link dump, but I’ll get to that when I have time.

Actually, now that I think about it just dumping links in there is probably a terrible way to organize that. At some point we’ll need an actual (maybe hosted on github?), but until then I guess the thread works for now.

Edit: Apparently I can just make any post into a wiki page that anyone can edit, so that’s what I did to that library post.


I find that the rejection of DGUs as a legitimate use comes from those who live in an environment where they cannot fathom needing to do this themselves (i.e. upper class, urban dwellers). The typical attitude here is that people who live in a dangerous environment should simply move to a safe neighborhood, which reflects an “ignorant and unaware” attitude about the economic realities of those who live in poverty and inner cities. When debating this topic with others, I don’t bother pushing the DGU argument hard unless the audience is more of the “ignorant and aware” type who is willing to recognize and respect the distinct needs of others unlike themselves.

Another specific type of DGU are those who live in rural areas where wild animals are a real danger, not to mention local law enforcement are far away and unable to arrive in a timely manner for an emergency.

Regarding aggregation of DGU cases, there is a DGU Reddit that posts stories, typically from local news sources.


We should make a Resources wiki post and add that DGU reddit. I have that library post, and I have a post on other orgs. Maybe a more general resources posts with links to updated feeds or databases or reference material, though?


One of the things that’s great about the DGU subreddit is that they post incidents that both went well and those that went poorly, and take time to discuss what went wrong. That usually involves calling people out for drawing or shooting recklessly or for having dangerous/inappropriate mindset around carrying, and I think people should see that the community does police itself. Of course, Reddit is just a small corner of the world.


Kleck withdrew the estimate based on the CDC survey numbers, since they weren’t geographically random like he’d assumed. I’d expect that won’t have a huge impact once he crunches the numbers further, but I’d be very cautious about citing it to gun control advocates until he republishes.

In the interest of actual honesty, both Kleck’s NSDS and that CDC’s survey methodology do have issues with telescoping and the lizardman’s constant. It’s still better than the NCVS’s approach, which goes out of its way to avoid finding anyone who successfully defended themselves, and much stronger than the ‘only count people who report to hospitals/morgues’ approach that several gun control organizations try to float. But there’s still a lot of cause to simply say that the data is an unknown, and not entirely without cause.

Or… uh, go to Zimmerman as their central example, which is worse.

Self-defense is genuinely important, and there are ways to sell it to gun control advocates that do work – Pink Pistols (and its splinter groups) and BlackGunsMatter are very useful here, in addition to their meatspace support and outreach. The numbers- and anecdote-based approaches can give a human face.

But the liberty-based argument is still too vital to not be the first and primary defense. I can show you literally dozens of examples of gun control advocates who propose – and genuinely believe – that expansive and onerous restrictions genuinely needs must be taken to the live experiment stage at the state or even federal levels to determine anything about their impact on murder or self defense, and that the scale of the problem justifies inconvenience or risk that trades against risk.

You have to be able to point out that those will involve jailing tens or hundreds of thousands of harmless people who didn’t quite keep up to speed with confusing or esoteric laws, and dealing with the collateral damage of enforcing that, in turn, at gunpoint.

How to think about the claim that "guns are made to kill"