Myth #3a - "Is there independent evidence to supports Kleck and Gertz?"

Myth #3a - "Is there independent evidence to supports Kleck and Gertz?"

A recent study funded by the National Institute of Justice, and conducted by criminologists Phillip J. Cook of Duke University and Jens Ludwig of Georgetown University, on behalf of the pro-"gun control" Police Foundation (a non-profit Washington D.C.-based research group spun off from the Ford Foundation in 1970), found a reported 1.5 million annual DGUs in 1994, using the Kleck/Gertz criteria. The data for the Cook/Ludwig study were obtained from a nationwide random-digit-dialed telephone survey of 2,568 adults conducted during November and December of 1994 by Chilton Research Services of Drexel Hill, PA. While the authors of the Police Foundation study consider their survey to be "a reliable reference" for other purposes (such as estimating the percentage of gun-owning households), the DGU estimates, they say, are greatly exaggerated and not informative as to whether private gun ownership has a net positive or negative effect on crime. In attempting to explain away this particular finding, Cook and Ludwig argue by comparison to the NCVS data that for example, the number of DGUs reported to their survey as being associated with rapes or attempted rapes is greater than the total number of rapes or attempted rapes estimated by the NCVS. It has been argued by some criminologists, however, as Kleck and Gertz note in their survey results, that the NCVS severely undercounts rapes, and would miss "nearly all DGUs associated with" them (p.155). Cook and Ludwig describe other comparisons between their DGU counts and the NCVS data as "almost as absurd," and note that their survey also suggests that "130,000 criminals are wounded or killed by civilian gun defenders," which they say is "completely out of line with other, more reliable statistics on the number of gunshot cases." The Kleck/Gertz survey likewise found that DGU-involved respondents who reported firing their gun at the offender (which was in only 15.6% of the cases) were likely to "remember with favor" their marksmanship and report that they had wounded the offender (8.3% of respondents). Kleck and Gertz discount these wounding reports, writing that "If 8.3% really hit their adversaries, and a total of 15.6% fired at their adversaries, this would imply... a level of combat marksmanship far exceeding that typically observed even among police officers" (p.173).

In explaining away their large number of estimated DGUs, Cook and Ludwig invoke a variation on the "dishonest respondent" hypothesis, namely that most such reports are "false positives," a result of the probability bias that some of the large number of non-DGU involved respondents will make up a story, while the smaller number of actual DGU-involved respondents will make less of a difference to the total estimate, no matter how they respond. Other factors, including "telescoping," or that respondents "may be geniunely confused due to substance abuse, mental illness, or simply less-than-accurate memories" could produce these "false positives," the authors argue. While "telescoping" may affect DGU estimates, the latter factors should also affect the overall reliability of other questions in the survey (indeed of any survey). Cook and Ludwig describe their results as "the most complete data available on the private stock of firearms in the United States." But considering the public stigma which has been placed on gun owners by much of the mass media, Cook and Ludwig's confidence in their finding that just 35% of respondents households own guns (by comparison to the approximately 50% of households found in previous surveys) may be misplaced. If Cook and Ludwig can't believe those respondents who claim to have used a gun defensively, how can they trust their respondents to report accurately about their "arsenals" of "cop-killer assault weapons," "junk guns," and "high powered sniper rifles" to anonymous strangers on the telephone?

Recommended Reading:

"Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun", Kleck, Gary and Gertz, Marc
J. of Criminal Law and Criminology, v.86, n.1, pp.150-187 (1995)

"Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms", National Institute of Justice Research in Brief, May 1997
SuDoc# J 28.24:G 95/3 (1997)

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