Pew Poll Supports High levels of Defensive Gun Use

Pew Poll Supports High levels of Defensive Gun Use
Pew Poll Supports High levels of Defensive Gun Use

Arizona -(  The number of defensive gun uses (dgu) in the United States is difficult to measure. Surveys which ask about defensive gun uses have routinely shown numbers between 500,000 and 3 million per year.  A survey, specifically designed to determine dgu in the U.S., the National Self Defense Survey, (NSDS) found about 2.5 million dgu per year in 1993.

The National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS), shows smaller numbers, about 80,000 per year. The NCVS does not ask about defensive gun uses, but depends on victims volunteering the information.

Numerous other polls have found similar numbers to what the NSDS found.  These include three large surveys done by the Center for Disease Control shortly after the NSDS. The CDC results were only found recently, after being buried by the CDC for twenty years.

A survey done by detractors of the NSDS found similar numbers of defensive gun uses. The detractors then attempted to discredit their own survey. Police Foundation survey (Cook and Ludwig 1996; 1997).

A recent Pew poll supports large numbers of defensive gun uses (dgu) each year.  It also shows large numbers of people who report they have been shot.

In the Pew poll, seven percent of all adults in the poll say they have defended themselves, family, or possessions with a gun by firing it or threatening to fire it. Three percent of people say they have been shot.

Seventeen percent of self identified gun owners say they have used guns defensively by that definition.

Nine percent of people who say they used to own a gun say they used one for defense as defined in the poll. From

Roughly one-in-seven adults who own or have owned a gun (15%) say they have fired or threatened to fire a gun to defend themselves, their family or their possessions.

One percent of people who say they have never owned a gun say they used one for self defense in that way.

The Pew question could be both more inclusive and specific. It leaves out defense of non-family.  It eliminates uses where the defender did not shoot or threaten to shoot the gun. In most defensive gun uses, the gun is never fired.  Many users never threaten to fire their gun.

The number of adults in 2017 was 248 million.  Seven percent of 248 million is 17.36 million adults who say they used a gun defensively, sometime in their life.

If we use 20 years as typical of what adults may remember, that would be 868 thousand dgu a year. If we use 35 years as the average, it would be 496 thousand dgu per year. The average age of a person in the U.S. is 37.

It is hard to know what percentage of incidents may be forgotten, or how many adults might have used a gun defensively more than once.  The poll does not measure how many adults would give a false answer.

The Pew poll question would have been better if it were time limited. It would have been better to have more questions that helped to verify the defensive uses.

Those steps were taken in  the National Self Defense Survey (NSDS) done by Dr. Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz. The NSDS was done in 1993 and published in 1995.

Critics have attacked the NSDS numbers as inaccurate. Professor Kleck has answered the attacks and defended the NSDS numbers .

The recent poll done by Pew is not as large, nor as detailed as the NSDS. Its results are compatible with the NSDS results.

One criticism of the NSDS results is that the number of killed or wounded attackers, extrapolated from the poll results, is larger than the number seen in hospitals.   In the Kleck and Gertz survey, about 8% of those who reported a defensive gun use said they thought they had wounded or killed the person they were shooting at (about 20 respondents).

The CDC recorded 116,000 non-fatal firearm injuries in 2016. These are firearm injuries where the injury was recorded at a medical facility.

A criticism of the NSDS is the small number of defenders who thought they had wounded or killed the person they were defending from, extrapolates to 207,000 people with firearm injuries per year.  Those critical of the NSDS argued that far fewer people than 207,000 were recorded as injuries in emergency rooms and hospitals each year.

Kleck answered this criticism by noting that he and Gertz had cautioned about extrapolation from such small numbers, based on speculation by the reporting defenders.  From Kleck:

…they specifically cautioned against using NSDS data to generate such an estimate because an estimate of defensive woundings would be based (unlike the estimates of DGU frequency in general) on a small sample (the approximately 200 respondents who reported a DGU) and because NSDS interviewers had done no detailed questioning of respondents regarding why they thought that they had wounded their adversaries.

Kleck also noted that the number of people wounded may not be well measured by reports from emergency rooms.  A previous study by Kleck showed that most people who report to emergency rooms with gunshot wounds are criminals.

the fact that the vast majority of victims of medically treated GSWs linked to alleged “assaults” are known criminals (Kleck 1997, Chapter 1).

Gunshot wounds are reported to the police. There is incentive for criminals to avoid visiting emergency rooms with minor gunshot wounds. In reading hundreds of reports of wounded criminals, virtually all attempt to convince authorities that they are the victim.

The recent Pew poll supports Kleck and the NSDS results.

In the Pew survey, conducted in April of 2017, three percent of adults say they have been shot accidentally or intentionally.  That is 7.44 million people who say they have been shot.

Divide that number by years of experience to produce approximate numbers of the people who say they were shot per year.

If we choose 20 years as the average number of years adults remember, the number shot is over 372 thousand a year. If we use a 35 year average, it would be 212 thousand people shot per year.

Fatal firearm accidents are at an all time low, less than 500 per year.

The Pew survey can be added to the list of those that show relatively high levels of defensive gun use in the United States.

Dean Weingarten
Dean Weingarten

About Dean Weingarten:

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

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Umm, 7% of 248,000,000 is 1,736,000, Not 17 million. FYI I did not math check the rest of the article.

Tom Gresham

Nope. Try again.

Joseph V

And it’s a good thing you didn’t math check the rest of the article, because 7% of 248,000,000 is indeed 17,360,000 (248,000,000 x 0.07 = 17,360,000).


communist-core math grad? need a calculator to make change for a nickel?


The reality is this, and something everyone needs to argue-even on the lowest end of the spectrum, firearms are used 4-5x more for defensive purposes than they are for crimes (that’s including suicides, since half of deaths are suicide, but the Left never makes that distinction, so we will just include it). If people think restricting firearms is a good thing, they’re delusional.

The cold truth of the matter is they are used far more to defend life than with the criminal intent to take life.

Kenneth Corbin

That is the problem with self reported DGU’s. They are not reported to the police. You have only the unsupported opinion of the reporter that this was a legitimate use of deadly force. The sap on the other end of the firearm probably has a very different opinion, but you are not going to hear that. My own experience on the receiving end of a DGU is they are usually attempts to defend property, or just frighten off someone who you do not want hanging around, then they are deterring serious life threats.

Heed the Call-up

Kenneth, if the “sap” on the other end was truly a victim of crime, the “sap” would have reported it, that would include “frightening” someone, aka brandishing – also illegal. As to defense of property, in most states it is illegal to use a firearm for that purpose. Regardless, if you protected your property, that is a defensive use by definition. You can disbelieve what you want, ignorance is supposed to be bliss, so continue on with your happy life.

Kenneth E Corbin

Generally good points. The “victim” of a DGU, like the firearm user, may have all kinds of reasons not to report the incident to the police. They may be up to questionable activities, they may be racial minorities or undocumented migrants with good reasons not to trust the police. Or young children that are just too terrified to tell anyone. And using a firearm to protect your property may or may not be legal, and may or may not be wise. If it turns out that the other party is has a properly issued concealed carry permit, he could quite… Read more »

Heed the Call-up

Kenneth,your “what if’s” do not met reality. If your “what if’s” were reality, we’d certainly be reading them in the Leftist news – we aren’t – that is where reality meets your insanity.

Wild Bill

@Heed, KEC is twisting the hypo into the same “blood in the streets”argument that the gun grabbers used to oppose shall issue. The actual three decades of experience, as you correctly point out, never did support the gun grabbers’ arguments.

Kenneth Corbin

My own personnel statistics. Three times an armed citizen has threatened me with a firearm, largely because they did not like the fact that I existed. Based on that, I strongly suspect that the vast majority of self reported DGUs are seeing righteous jerks dealing with imaginary threats


you must be a real likable fellow

VT Patriot

Brilliant. You are way above average being threatened 3 times. What a guy! You’re a real superhero. And these times because people did not like that you existed.
Hmm, perhaps you aren’t a very likeable fellow.

Wild Bill

@Kenneth Corbin, Most people don’t just “not like the fact that someone exists”. Most people even tolerate the existence of rats, cockroaches, and skunks. So what did you do or say that made you an intolerable threat to these three separate people? Come on. Tell us the whole truth. What did you do to be a credible lethal threat?

Kenneth Corbin

I’m pretty old. All of these incidents happened back in the early 80’s. Two can be chalked up as natural conflict between conservative landowners and long haired hippies with minimal respect for land ownership rights. One was instigated by a couple teenage kids who thought it would be fun to frighten the longhair walking by. I do not, and never have, reacted well to being threatened, generally ignoring demands by gun toting a*holes and carrying on with what I had been doing. Not the wisest course, but the fact that I still around to talk about it is a pretty… Read more »

Wild Bill

@KC, I’m glad that you are pretty old. The residue is unconvincing.

Kenneth Corbin

You are quite welcome

Heed the Call-up

Kenneth, and did you report these supposed events? And why not, if you were the innocent victim you claim to have been? As stated in the story, most criminals claim they were the victims that got shot.

I discount your other posts, too, based on the fact that if it smells like bs, it probably is.

Kenneth Corbin

Fair question. I did not report any of these events. Remember this was back in the 80’s before cell phones were invented. I was on foot, reporting an incident to the proper authorities would have mean hitch-hiking 5-10 miles to the nearest town and then searching for a police station to report an incident that they were unlikely to have any interest in pursuing. Truth be told, I never considered any of these incidents to be a terribly big deal. Redneck gun wielder attempted to intimidate scary long haired hippy and failed miserably. Case closed as far as I was… Read more »

Heed the Call-up

Kenneth, not that it is any of your business to know what, if anything I do with or have used my firearms for, but I have only ever used my firearms for target shooting. I do have a CC permit and do carry when and where I am legally allowed. I avoid bad situations and have been fortunate in my life to not have gotten into any where I had access to or needed a firearm. I had one incident abroad where I was only allowed to carry a pocket knife, and I was fortunate that that was enough to… Read more »

Kenneth Corbin

Nothing personal, just trying to make small talk. You certainly do not have to tell me anything you do not want to. It does sound like you live in the same kind of quiet low crime, rural neighborhood that I do. I could ask why you find it necessary to carry a firearm in such an environment. The answer would presumably be for the same reason why I wear a seat belt when travelling in a vehicle. I have no reason to expect to be in an accident, but it never hurts to be prepared for one. One thing I… Read more »

Kenneth Corbin

>> I presume since you never reported those supposed incidents that you must still be 5 – 10 miles from civilization. You could easily have contacted the police after you got back. Well, that was almost 40 years ago, seems a bit late to be getting excited about it now. Like I said, I did not think it was a big deal at the time. Someone tried to intimidate me with a firearm and failed miserably. Not worth bothering law enforcement with. And now that I am an old respectable landowner myself, I have a bit more sympathy for the… Read more »

Heed the Call-up

Kenneth, I live in the “burbs”, but it is very low crime area, where kids leave bikes and toys in their yards. Why I carry, many reasons, one being because my relative, a now former LEO, convinced me that he and LE are not there for my and my family’s protection and he wanted me to be able protect his sister and our child. Also, as I stated previously, I had an incident abroad that showed me that one can’t prevent all bad situations, and as an older person, I understand that I am a more likely target. Being prepared,… Read more »

Kenneth Corbin

Interesting contrast…. I helped raise 3 daughters. Who I wanted to be strong and independent and unafraid to do anything in a world where half the population is going to be bigger and stronger than they are. So I spent thousands of dollars and countless hours over a span of many years enrolling the family in an unarmed self defense class. It seems we both want the same thing, but chose radically different approaches. I guess if you are raised in a family where guns are a routine fact of life, that is what you automatically think of when it… Read more »

Heed the Call-up

Kenneth, so in two incidents you admit to breaking the law and ignoring requests to leave private property. You also admit that in two incidents their was no brandishing or other “threat” of harm, which is why you avoided going to the police. The third incident, if it happened as you state, you should have reported it. As far as teaching your children non-armed self-defense, my daughter also has learned that. I also know unarmed self-defense. You never asked me about that. LEOs also know unarmed self-defense, but oddly they still carry firearms for self-defense. I guess you and you… Read more »

Kenneth Corbin

Back again, been real busy lately…. There are a number of reasons why I did not feel it necessary to report any of these incidents to law enforcement. But the primary one is that I never really felt threatened by any of these individuals. To a greater or lesser extent, they were trying to frighten me, and failed miserably. My actions in all three cases may or may not have been legal, and certainly were unwise. Not something I would ever recommend to anyone. But that is not the question. The question is, do you consider any of these to… Read more »

Heed the Call-up

Kenneth, legally carrying a firearm “around” police isn’t unwise, they respect the 2A and legal carry/ownership. If you are CC, even they won’t know, unless they did a record check on you. You made it personal when you implied and as you just stated that you believe carrying is stupid and unnecessary. There are numerous examples in the news to prove otherwise. Again you falsely claim that your incidents represent many DGUs – strictly only your opinion, based on no facts, which, again, news reports prove otherwise. Your stating you didn’t feel threatened proves your comment about all firearm owners… Read more »

Kenneth Corbin

Hanging out with cops while carrying is probably fine. But I’m talking about engaging in a conflict situation, resisting the enforcement of unjust laws. In the 60’s I would have been arrested for protesting segregated establishments. Today, I would feel morally bound to aggressively block ICE attempts to arrest undocumented immigrants. Without a firearm, I expect to be arrested and charged. With a firearm, I stand a very high chance of getting killed. And I did make it clear that I did not consider the behavior of the gun owners I documented to be typical of more than a small… Read more »

Heed the Call-up

Kenneth, your refusing to get off someone’s property doesn’t make that person irate. If “introducing a firearm into the equation is going to make things really ugly really fast”, why didn’t you attack those purportedly armed land owners? It seems that their being armed made you decide not to assault them and leave, just as the one event of mine where a knife changed the perp’s mind. There aren’t reliable stats on DGUs? Numerous studies have come to similar conclusions, the last by the CDC in 2013 showing similar results to the others. There are anywhere from 500,000 to 3… Read more »

Wild Bill

@KC, you were on foot, five to ten miles from the nearest town, in the 1980s? Was that summer or winter? How much water did you have with you? What clothing were you wearing? Were any other people with you on your little stroll away from civilization?
And a then gun wielding red neck attempted to intimidate you for no reason? And you want us to trust your story? I can not tell if you are not telling the whole truth or not telling any truth, but you are attempting to deceive.

Kenneth Corbin

No problem… Incident #1 Pittsburgh area in Pennsylvania. I was a teenager, well before I had a drivers license. That would put it somewhere in the 1963-65 range. I enjoyed what would nowadays be known as a free-range childhood, but back then that was pretty much the norm. I enjoyed hiking through the backwoods up to 5-6 miles from home, or biking rural roads up to 12 miles away. On this particular day I was cutting across country trying to get to the top of nearby hill. Reached the hill top, enjoyed the view, then started backtracking the way I… Read more »

Kenneth Corbin

Well, hello again… In the cases cited, I did not ” attack those purportedly armed gun owners” primarily because all of them were in the process of retreating, or staying invisible, when they claimed to have a firearm. Again, this should not be considered typical behavior on the part of all gun owners, it just happens to be my experience. These all happened a long time ago. If something like that were to occur now, I would also add I am a pretty committed pacifist and would try very hard to avoid harming anyone other than myself for any reason.… Read more »

Heed the Call-up

Kenneth, you post more of the same bs that is counter to studies and the news. Believe what you may. As I stated before, your bs will not convert anyone to your side. People can smell the stench of your bs and will not believe you. You imply you are not violent, but continually state that most firearm owners aren’t peaceful, another lie not supported by facts, studies and news reports, and that you would assault a firearm owner if given the chance. You them call us assailants for wanting to defend ourselves from a person that shows total disrespect… Read more »

Kenneth Corbin

There seems to be a recurring pattern where you react angrily to something I never said. Like this guy must be a leftist libtard who believes all of the dumb things we accuse libtards of believing, so lets respond to all of those stupid things they say. I have never tried to convince anyone to give up their firearms. Carrying firearms for self defense may be stupid, as long as you are not threatening those around you, you have a right to be stupid. I certainly never claimed firearm owners were not peaceful. Most firearm owners keep them for hunting,… Read more »

Heed the Call-up

The recurring theme is refuting your dishonesty and your negativity towards law-abiding people. I never stated you are a leftist libturd, etc. The “stupid things” I have responded to are your statements. I have not constructed any straw men, as you have, and have only replied to your statements. However, your words are typical of anti-rights people and you have numerous times stated directly, as you did in your last post, that you believe owning firearms is stupid. You have also stated, as you did in this last post, that because I am a firearm owner that I am stupid,… Read more »