The Reason for Our Woeful Lack of Gun Statistics

How often are guns used for self-defense? Advocates claim as often as 2.5 million times a year. That's an incredible figure, for reasons explained here and here. On the other hand, the number of defensive gun uses must surely be much higher than zero. It would be good to know how much higher. Perhaps some competent agency might do some better-quality research? The Centers for Disease Control would seem one logical candidate, they do many of the nation's best public-health studies.

Alas, no, that work has never been done. Why not? Because gun advocates have made a point of attacking CDC budgets for research into gun safety. As Reason reported in 1997:

Last year Congress tried to take away $2.6 million from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In budgetary terms, it was a pittance: 0.1 percent of the CDC's $2.2 billion allocation. Symbolically, however, it was important: $2.6 million was the amount the CDC'sNational Center for Injury Prevention and Control had spent in 1995 on studies of firearm injuries. Congressional critics, who charged that the center's research program was driven by an anti-gun prejudice, had previously sought to eliminate the NCIPC completely. "This research is designed to, and is used to, promote a campaign to reduce lawful firearms ownership in America," wrote 10 senators, including then Majority Leader Bob Dole and current Majority Leader Trent Lott. "Funding redundant research initiatives, particularly those which are driven by a social-policy agenda, simply does not make sense."

After the NCIPC survived the 1995 budget process, opponents narrowed their focus, seeking to pull the plug on the gun research specifically, or at least to punish the CDC for continuing to fund it. At a May 1996 hearing, Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.), co-sponsor of the amendment cutting the CDC's budget, chastised NCIPC Director Mark Rosenberg for treating guns as a "public health menace," suggesting that he was "working toward changing society's attitudes so that it becomes socially unacceptable to own handguns." In June the House Appropriations Committee adopted Dickey's amendment, which included a prohibition on the use of CDC funds "to advocate or promote gun control," and in July the full House rejected an attempt to restore the money.

Although the CDC ultimately got the $2.6 million back as part of a budget deal with the White House, the persistent assault on the agency's gun research created quite a stir.

The assault not only caused a stir, but also sent a message. With the result that all these years later, the only statistics we have on defensive gun use are the huge numbers concocted via dubious methods two decades ago.