The Kleck Study is a Running Joke: Gun Defenders Always Lie to Make Their Point

Okay, so I was set to appear on BBC World News today, on a show called “World Have Your Say,” for a debate about gun control in the United States. The debate was to be with right wing radio host Lars Larson, along with a couple of other people. Unfortunately, there were connection issues, so I missed being able to discuss a lot of it.

The issue was some extremely pointed remarks President Obama made during a Q and A with Tumblr founder and CEO David Karp, after he was asked about the seemingly never-ending series of mass shootings in the United States, as well as out failure to act when it comes to gun control. The president said we should be “ashamed” of our inaction, and that it’s his “biggest frustration so far.  He said,

“The country has to do some soul-searching on this. This is becoming the norm. Our levels of gun violence are off the charts. There’s no advanced developed country on earth that would put up with this.”

Lars Larson, playing to his far right listeners, as if those people could even find the BBC, said President Obama was lying with his remarks, and then proceeded to attempt to make his case with a series of lies. It was frustrating, because I have refuted these lies so many times before, I have the refutations down pat.

His first lie was to claim that the United States isn’t really as bad as advertised. He claimed that Obama’s assertion that “no advanced developed country on earth that would put up with this” was somehow a fabrication, and that our overall gun death rate was somehow getting better. Well, you tell me. These are statistics that were published last year (Source):

Country Guns per 100 Total Firearm-related Deaths per 100,000
United States 88.8 10.2
Switzerland 45.7 3.84
Finland 45.3 3.64
Sweden 31.6 1.47
Norway 31.3 1.78
France 31.2 3
Canada 30.8 2.44
Austria 30.4 2.94
Iceland 30.3 1.25
Germany 30.3 1.1
New Zealand 22.6 2.66
Greece 22.5 1.5
Belgium 17.2 2.43
Luxembourg 15.3 1.81
Australia 15 1.04
South Africa 12.7 9.41
Turkey 12.5 0.72
Denmark 12 1.45
Malta 11.9 2.16
Italy 11.9 1.28
Spain 10.4 0.63
Ireland 8.6 1.03
Portugal 8.5 1.77
Israel 7.3 1.86
United Kingdom 6.2 0.25
Netherlands 3.9 0.46
Japan 0.6 0.06

Now, I don’t remember everything from math classes when I was a child, but I’m pretty sure 10.2 gun deaths per 100,000 population is quite a bit higher than 3.84, which is the second-highest number there. And isn’t it about FORTY TIMES as high as the United Kingdom? I’m pretty sure that’s correct.

Then, Larson claimed he didn’t understand why countries like the UK were so against carrying gun, and offered up a typical gun loon straw man. He tried to claim that the violent crime rate in the UK is higher than in the US? With such a high rate of violent crime, he lied, he didn’t understand why Brits weren’t more open to carrying a gun, presumably so they could scare bad guys away and avoid such crime.  There’s just one problem with this. This particular meme cannot be prove true. Because categories of crime differ between the US and UK, it is not possible to make a direct comparison, and claim that their rate of violent crime is higher. Therefore, citing that as a fact makes Larson a liar, without irony.

But regardless of “violent crime” statistics, the issue is people dying from guns pointed at them. That’s the only issue we’re dealing with here. People in other countries aren’t showing up at schools and killing children on a regular basis. They’re not getting pissed off at someone, heading off to buy a gun and ammo without a background check and returning to shoot them to death. That’s just a fact. All you need to know is that, according to the statistics above, is that living in the US means one out of every 10,000 people will die from a gunshot, and in the UK, only one out of every 400,000 will suffer that fate. Yes, some of those other people will be beaten or stabbed to death, or run over with a car. But no one will be able to walk into an elementary school and shoot 20 babies and six of their teachers, through walls, without even facing his victims. That’s a fact.

Then, to end his ridiculous defense of guns, Larson pulled up none other than the infamous Kleck Study. Those who are not familiar with it, don’t feel bad. Most of the people who cite it don’t even know what it is. Larson claimed that 2 million people protect themselves with guns every year. Actually, the number is 2.5 million, if we’re being honest, and the term is “defensive gun uses,” or DGUs. But both numbers are bogus,because the study is bogus. It’s also old. The Kleck study, which was authored by Dr. Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz was released in 1994, and it could very well be the most-debunked study of gun use in history. Not only that, but in 20 years, no one – and I mean no one – from the far right side of the aisle has been able to reproduce these results, which should be easy, if it has any grain of truth to it. Of course, the 2.5 million DGUs is utterly ridiculous; that would be more DGUs per year than were used against the Nazis each year in World War II. The number is so ridiculous, pretty much everyone in the country would know someone who stopped a crime with a gun, and we all know that’s not possible. By the way, Kleck himself has never published a defense of this number in 20 years.

Here are just a few of the articles debunking the Kleck Study:

Cook, PJ  & Ludwig, J., “Defensive Gun Uses – New Evidence from a National Survey,” J. Quant. Crimin. (1998)

Cook, PJ et al, “The gun debate’s new mythical number: How many defensive uses per year?” Journal of Police Analysis and Management (1997)

Hemenway, D & Azrael, The Relative Frequency of Offensive and Defensive Gun Uses: Results from a National Survey,” Violence and Victims, Volume 15, Number 3 (2000), pp 257-272

Webster, D & Ludwig, J., “Myths about Defensive Gun Use and Permissive Gun Carry Laws,” Berkeley Media Studies Group, 2000.

Comparing the Incidence of Self-Defense Gun Use and Criminal Gun Use,” Harvard Injury Control Research  Center Bulletin, 2009

Like I said, the number Lars Larson used – 2 million people use a gun to protect themselves from a crime every single year – is not credible on its face. And that fact is actually reinforced by a number of studies that refute the basic premise. When someone defending current gun law uses a statistic, it’s a pretty good bet that the number is a complete fabrication. The United States abuses guns more than any other developed country on Earth and there is no disputing that. The numbers prove it. 

The bottom line on all of this is simple; when it comes to guns, the people who are attempting to protect an unlimited right that doesn’t exist will say anything to make their point. Usually, they have no choice but to lie, because they have no truth on their side. Have you noticed that they even lie about the Second Amendment? The conveniently leave out the section discussing militia service. 

We need to stop cowering in front of these people. We can win the gun control debate, if only we tell the truth. Facts have a liberal bias. Use them, and beat them over the head with them, rhetorically speaking.

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  1. Great article, yet I’m curious what the author would say to the gun supporter who uses the example of Switzerland to try and poke holes in the argument for tighter gun control in America. A local AM RW host in LA recently tried to make a dubious argument involving Switzerland to a caller and, naturally, just shouted the guy down before going to a commercial break. Basically his argument is in Switzerland most everyone owns a gun due to how after finishing compulsory military service, they’re given a weapon to keep forever. Despite most everyone having a gun, their murder rate is so low that some years they don’t even bother to record it. Thusly the AM RW host basically put a new spin on the old argument ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ as by his logic in Switzerland everyone has a gun…but they don’t have weekly mass shootings so ergo MORE guns is the solution America needs?!?! I would love for the author to explore this RW trope (which I’ve heard after most every recent mass shooting) as it seems to be just another far-fetched attempt to loosen gun control laws.

    1. The numbers are in the article. Switzerland has roughly half as many guns as the US and about 62% fewer gun deaths. Wonder if he mentions that the Swiss have to carry a gun, but they can’t have an arsenal, they can’t own any weapon they wish, and they’re limited as to how many they have. All I am asking for is registration of all guns, licensing of all owners and insurance for each gun/owner.

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