Gary Kleck’s research is widely propagated by the NRA (Mailbag, Oct. 24), especially his statement that 2.5 million Americans have used guns in self-defense. That number comes from a 1995 telephone survey of 5,000 gun owners who reported 66 incidents. He and his colleague then extrapolated those results to the entire public, not just gun owners. His research has been reviewed by a number of researchers and found to be flawed for these reasons.
Kleck did not ask if the respondent was a crime victim, leaving them to decide what “self-defense” meant. That’s a major flaw. For example, in a survey of prison inmates, 63 percent reported firing guns in self-defense while committing the crime for which they were arrested.
By extrapolating their findings to the all Americans, they overestimated the number of incidents significantly. Criminologists from the University of Maryland reviewed results from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and determined that between 52,000 to 120,000 self-defense incidents in response to an actual crime occurred each year.
Kleck contends that the NCVS is inaccurate since gun owners fear reporting to a government surveyor would put them in jeopardy. That would be true only of the gun use was illegal. He also contends that guns are used in self-defense four to five times more than to commit crime. Yet, the NCVS data indicate that guns are used in crime 10 times more often than for protection.
Kleck’s data is inaccurate and misleading, at best. That the NRA uses it regularly is outrageous.
Albany (Oct. 26)