CDC Didn't Release Defensive Gun Use Survey Results

posted on April 29, 2018

Gun control advocates have long complained that Second Amendment supporters balk whenever it comes to giving the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tax dollars to study gun uses. It’s not so much that we oppose research about gun violence; it’s more that we have some apprehension about a predisposition toward anti-gun bias in such research. After all, the CDC, in one of its early ventures in the “gun violence research” field, published a flawed study in 1993 that was designed to support the gun control argument. 

The CDC’s 1993 findings were disputed a couple of years later, when Florida State University researcher Gary Kleck partnered with Marc Gertz to conduct an independent study that showed close to 2.5 million defensive gun uses (DGU) per year. That boxed the anti-gunners into a corner, so the nay-sayers had to regroup. Going on the premise that the best way to prove or disprove such findings would be to try to replicate the study—publishing the “real” numbers in their rebuttal—the CDC included DGU measures in its surveys over a three year period in the late 1990s. Thing is, we never heard about the CDC’s research. Seems the results just sat around in some dustbin for 20 years.

How do you figure that could happen? Did the results from a three-year government study really get “lost” for decades? And how did it even come to light now?

Since the CDC didn’t publicize its results, we’re left to wonder why. The most obvious answer is that the data weren’t supportive of the anti-gun agenda the CDC wanted to push.

Well, we know the answer to the third question. Kleck found the survey data when researching another topic.

And his interpretation of the data goes a long way to explain the answers to the first two questions. The results from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey—conducted in 1996, 1997 and 1998—can be extrapolated out to show 2.2 million DGUs per year, a finding much in line with what Kleck and Gertz reported. So why didn’t the CDC publish its findings? Probably because the numbers indicated what gun owners have long known: A gun is used to stop a crime way more often than it is used to commit one.

Gun control advocates—the likes of which include Michael Bloomberg or the anti-gun Violence Policy Center (VPC)—bandy about scant numbers of what they deem to describe as legitimate DGUs. Indeed, the VPC today cites so low a figure it seems like it is going out of its way to minimize legitimate cases of armed citizens using guns to defend themselves or others. 

After Kleck happened upon the hidden results, he wrote a paper titled “What Do CDC's Surveys Say About the Frequency of Defensive Gun Uses?” in which he showed how the numbers are in line with his earlier findings. Kleck published his rebuttal online, but temporarily pulled down his paper because his initial critique was written on the premise that the CDC surveys were nationwide, but they were actually based on polling in just 15 states. Not that the geographical limitation should make too much of a difference, statistically. The nature of polling is such that the answers from a limited pool of respondents often are taken to represent a broader swath of people. And the states in the BRFSS survey are geographically, ideologically and economically diverse, so the cross-section should be good. Still, Kleck wanted to rework his paper to account for the limitation.

And though the numbers tend to back up his earlier research, Kleck noted that even the CDC surveys were limited in scope. For example, if someone didn’t admit to owning a gun, the question about whether they’d ever had to use it to protect themselves, their property or others was not asked. That could mean that even the CDC’s numbers, though not far removed from Kleck’s, are an underestimate of DGUs.

Since the CDC didn’t publicize its results, we’re left to wonder why. The most obvious answer is that the data weren’t supportive of the anti-gun agenda the CDC wanted to push, which is in line with CDC thinking at the time.

Gun control advocates might call us skeptics, but it seems we have reason to be.


Joseph P. DeBergalis Jr.
Joseph P. DeBergalis Jr.

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