Gun Control Controversy: Do Guns Save People?

Cover Photo Credit – Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA / CC BY

A lot of conversations that center around gun control and gun violence address how guns are dangerous. All we hear in the media today is how many people have been killed or how many times the public have encountered an active shooter situation.

It may seem that there are fewer resources touting how guns keep people safe. Unfortunately, that’s probably not the case, but you don’t hear about these statistics as much.

In fact, even though Congress prevents the CDC from promoting gun control, they don’t prevent them from publishing research related to gun deaths. Of course, that means that most of what you hear is about how guns are bad.

Unfortunately, every time there’s a mass shooting, it takes mere seconds for high-profile celebrities and other people to issue statements about how we need more gun control laws, no matter what evidence there is to the contrary or what laws have already failed. It seems there are many valid pro gun arguments that are somehow hidden from the media.

However, there’s another side to this story, as there is with every polarizing topic. Guns also save people, and it’s high time we looked at how by going through some gun control pros and cons.

As Charles W. Cooke of the National Review says, “Such knee-jerk, emotional responses are dangerous, for when a nation sets up a direct pipeline between its emotions and its laws, it does not keep its liberty for long.”

Differences of Opinion

Kill the NRA - Gun Control Graffiti on Billboard in Saint Paul, Minnesota
Kill the NRA – Gun Control Graffiti on Billboard in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Photo Credit – Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States / CC BY-SA

There are many legislators who are in favor of removing the CDC’s funding restrictions, meaning the CDC could use taxpayer money to promote gun control. While the CDC is funded by the federal government, several states have taken a stand on their own.

California created a gun violence research center while New Jersey is thinking about doing the same. College professors like David Hemenway at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center believe that there should be more federal funding for gun violence research.

On the other side of the coin, gun rights activists are rightfully concerned that this research will be used to throw more fuel on the anti-gun fire, futhering political agendas.

The CDC no doubt has a history of anti-gun bias, and many CDC officials have gone on record saying that gun ownership is dirty, deadly, and should be banned.

It’s tough to feel so strongly about something and have to fight for it so hard. People on both sides of the argument against (or for) gun control feel the urgency to prove themselves right at the expense of discrediting those who disagree.

However, there are some things that are important to remember in light of all of our differences.

Guns Save Lives

Certainly, if guns were simply used to murder people, it would make a lot of sense to ban them. But there are plenty of civilians who carry a firearm legally, every day. Most of them cite self defense as the primary reason.

man pulling pistol from back waistband

These studies should be enlightening. Of the 350 million Americans who legally carry a gun every day, the majority of them do it without the intention of shooting anyone at all. Unless they have to save a life.

When gun laws are passed without reason, simply to appease the emotions of the masses, liberty isn’t the only thing we lose. We stand to lose even more lives than we already do, because the fact is, civilians who carry guns legally do a lot to prevent death.

But the question still stands: how many lives does gun ownership actually save? Many people tend to ignore this question in the wake of mass shootings, but it needs to be addressed.

There are countless cases every year of guns saving people from an active shooter situation, but these are the stories we rarely hear.

On October 27, 2018, a man was eating dinner with his family at a McDonald’s in Alabama. It’s worth mentioning that he was also armed with a pistol. When a gunman with a mask came in and opened fire, this brave father shot him before he had a chance to shoot any innocent bystanders.

In fact, he and his family were leaving the restaurant when the masked gunman walked in and started shooting. This man re-entered the restaurant in an attempt to stop what would have certainly been a tragedy had he not been there.

While the father and one of his sons were struck, they were not killed, and the gunman was stopped before doing any more damage. The gunman eventually died of his injuries, but you can’t ignore how many other lives were actually saved, simply by taking advantage of legal gun ownership.

There are countless other stories like this one. You can read about the man who shot back at Kroger here. You can read about twelve additional cases where people defended themselves here. Or you can read eleven more examples here.

Guns are Effective

These heartwarming stories don’t get much press, and they’re clearly not enough to change the course of the debate or convince grandstanders to, well, stand down. We need hard evidence, facts, and statistics.

Ask and you shall receive.

  • Guns prevent over 6,000 crimes every day. Most of the time, the gun is never even fired.
  • More than half of interviewed felons admit to avoiding crime when they know a victim is armed.
  • Only 10% of violent crimes in the U.S. involve a firearm.
  • Less than 1% of guns obtained at gun shows are used to commit crimes, debunking the danger of the gun show loophole.
  • 93% of guns used in crimes are obtained illegally.
  • Gun Owners of America reports that armed citizens kill about 1500 criminals every year compared to the 600 that the police kill.
  • The majority of citizens who use their gun in self defense every year only reveal it or fire a warning shot.
  • Less than 8% of times when a civilian uses a firearm do they actually wound or kill their attacker.
  • There are roughly 498,000 times per year that a civilian uses a gun to frighten away someone trying to break into their house.
  • Many school districts are arming their teachers because they believe it will prevent a larger number of school shootings.
  • All but one of the mass shootings since 1950 have taken place where civilians are not allowed to conceal carry.

Guns Can Often be Used for Self Defense

armed robber flees the scene of the crime
An actor portraying an armed robber flees from a crime.

One of the most important measurements when talking about law-abiding citizens using guns should be how many crimes are prevented or lives are saved, rather than how many criminals are killed.

This is a hard measurement to obtain. There’s concrete evidence of innocent lives lost at the hands of a ranging gunman, but a lot more work goes into figuring out the potential lives saved by using a gun defensively. Murders that didn’t happen don’t show up in the numbers.

In all fairness, we don’t judge how well our police force is doing by counting the number of criminals they kill. They make us feel safe by preventing crime. Civilians who carry guns should be measured in the same way.

Many studies have been published about how defensive gun use (DGU) is more effective than anti-gun laws. In the majority of these defensive cases, the criminal is rarely harmed, because they back off when they realize their victims are armed.

Guns don’t just stop criminals when they kill them. They work by intimidation, to prevent crimes or killings altogether. This is effective proof that gun owners don’t carry guns with the intention of killing anyone at all. If someone can be stopped without excess force, even gun owners can get behind that.

Gun-free zones are 66% more likely to attract criminals than deter them, while areas where concealed carry is allowed are only 32% as likely to attract criminals. Studies have also shown that guns in the home do not increase suicides and guns are much more likely to be used in the prevention of a crime than the commission of one.

Many people will argue that confiscating the more than 350 million guns in the United States would eliminate their offensive use, meaning we wouldn’t even need them defensively.

However, as evidenced with the war on drugs, the innocent are the ones who follow the rules. If it’s against the law, they don’t possess them. Criminals on the other hand, have no problem obtaining illegal substances on a thriving black market.

Imagine if the only people in the United States who had guns were the ones who intended to use them for bad.

One in six Americans who have experience using their guns defensively agree that someone would have died if they hadn’t intervened with their firearm.

The Right to Self Defense

The answer to these questions is always hard to come by. With such differences of opinion, we’ll likely never all agree. But the right to protection and self defense shouldn’t depend on numbers.

The relevance of any research study that reveals defensive gun use statistics or gun death numbers should have no bearing on how people choose to protect themselves and their families. It’s abundantly clear that when guns are used in self defense, it saves lives.

And the matter still remains that people should have the right to choose whatever method of self defense they want. Violence without guns happens daily, and often, legally concealed handguns are the answer.

Even assault style rifles have their place in home defense situations and can be very effective in protecting personal property.

There’s no denying that guns can be used for good and evil, but responsible gun ownership under the Second Amendment shouldn’t have to come under attack because of the ill-informed decisions of others. My opinion is that there are valid pros and cons of the second amendment.

Everyone would likely agree that it uses poor reasoning for a researcher of public health to study the negative effects of talking on a cell phone, alcohol consumption, or marijuana use without comparing it to the benefits. They would instantly lose credibility.

Yet somehow, it’s acceptable to highlight only the most radical cases of gun violence without bringing light to how many lives they actually save. It’s important that these research institutions let go of their bias and quantify the benefits of gun ownership while revealing the harm that illegal gun use can cause.

One without the other is completely dishonest and leads to poor public policy based on incomplete research, informed by a misunderstanding of the rights of every law-abiding citizen.

Engaging in gun violence research must be done correctly, recognizing positive and negative aspects of gun ownership, realizing that while guns can kill people, they also save them.

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