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Value of Civilian Handgun Possession as a Deterrent to Crime or a Defense Against Crime

NCJ Number
American Journal of Criminal Law Volume: 18 Issue: 2 Dated: (Winter 1991) Pages: 113-168
D B Kates Jr
Date Published
56 pages
A central issue in the gun control controversy is the degree to which civilian ownership of firearms reduces crime.
Pro- and anti-gun positions on the use of guns against crime have been determined by faith in the period before the existence of credible empirical evidence on the issues. The evidence from surveys both of civilians and of felons is that actual defensive handgun uses are enormously more frequent than has previously been realized. Handguns are used more often to prevent the commission of crimes than by felons attempting them. The unique defensive value of a handgun is not the only cause for comparatively low rates of injury among gun armed resisters; of equal or more important value is the wisdom not to resist in circumstances in which resistance is unlikely to succeed. The gun lobby supports the common sense intuition that the average criminal has no more desire to face an armed citizen than the average citizen has to face an armed criminal. However, the possibility that gun ownership reduces the activity level of confrontation offenders is only an unsubstantiated speculation; gun lobby propaganda has exaggerated the deterrent effect of gun ownership by not discounting for displacement effects that represent no net gain in overall crime reduction. 167 footnotes and 1 table