American gun owners are far more likely to injure themselves or someone else with their firearm than to stop a criminal, according to a new study from a group calling for tighter gun control.
The study, released Wednesday by the Violence Policy Center, found there were 258 justifiable homicides involving civilians using firearms in 2012, compared with 8,342 murders by gun. Even if a criminal isn't shot down, the study found that civilians rarely use guns to protect themselves. "Intended victims of property crimes engaged in self-protective behavior with a firearm" only 0.1 percent of the times they were targeted by a crook.
The report, titled "Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use" relied on FBI and Bureau of Justice data. The Violence Policy Center said the report disproves the premise of arguments by the National Rifle Association that more guns in the hands of regular people will reduce crime.
“The NRA has staked its entire agenda on the claim that guns are necessary for self-defense, but this gun industry propaganda has no basis in fact,” the group's executive director, Josh Sugarmann, said in a statement. “Guns are far more likely to be used in a homicide than in a justifiable homicide by a private citizen. In fact, a gun is far more likely to be stolen than used in self-defense.”
In addition to the thousands of annual murders, roughly 22,000 people die accidentally from a gun or use one to commit suicide.
Gun rights advocates, however, have long armed themselves with contrarian statistics, saying people are safer thanks to the Second Amendment.
The Cato Institute, which advocates against restrictions on gun ownership, maintains a map showing where a firearm has successfully stopped a crime. The group says there are many unreported incidents in which a would-be criminal flees when a civilian brandishes a gun in self-defense.
"Gun control proponents cannot deny that people use guns successfully against criminals, but they tend to play down how often such events take place," the Cato website says.
The Gun Owners of America maintains a section on its website "just for skeptics" that cites reports that Americans each year use guns 2.5 million times in self-defense.
Claims that guns are used millions of times each year in self-defense are untrue, however, according to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, which also found that "firearms are used far more often to intimidate than in self-defense."
“Purchasing a gun may help enrich the firearms industry, but the facts show it is unlikely to increase your personal safety,” Sugarmann said. “In fact, in a nation of more than 300 million firearms, it is striking how rarely guns are used in self-defense.”