CDC did look into defensive gun uses but neglected to tell anyone

Monday, April 30th, 2018

Back in the 1990s, the CDC looked into the number of defensive gun uses (DGUs) — but neglected to make its findings public. Whoops!

Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck conducted the most thorough previously known survey data on the question in the 1990s. His study, which has been harshly disputed in pro-gun-control quarters, indicated that there were more than 2.2 million such defensive uses of guns (DGUs) in America a year.

Now Kleck has unearthed some lost CDC survey data on the question. The CDC essentially confirmed Kleck’s results. But Kleck didn’t know about that until now, because the CDC never reported what it found.

Kleck’s new paper — “What Do CDC’s Surveys Say About the Frequency of Defensive Gun Uses?” — finds that the agency had asked about DGUs in its Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in 1996, 1997, and 1998.


From Kleck’s own surveys, he found that only 79 percent of those who reported a DGU “had also reported a gun in their household at the time of the interview,” so he thinks whatever numbers the CDC found need to be revised upward to account for that. (Kleck speculates that CDC showed a sudden interest in the question of DGUs starting in 1996 because Kleck’s own famous/notorious survey had been published in 1995.)

At any rate, Kleck downloaded the datasets for those three years and found that the “weighted percent who reported a DGU…was 1.3% in 1996, 0.9% in 1997, 1.0% in 1998, and 1.07% in all three surveys combined.”

Kleck figures if you do the adjustment upward he thinks necessary for those who had DGU incidents without personally owning a gun in the home at the time of the survey, and then the adjustment downward he thinks necessary because CDC didn’t do detailed follow-ups to confirm the nature of the incident, you get 1.24 percent, a close match to his own 1.326 percent figure.

He concludes that the small difference between his estimate and the CDC’s “can be attributed to declining rates of violent crime, which accounts for most DGUs. With fewer occasions for self-defense in the form of violent victimizations, one would expect fewer DGUs.”


UPDATE: You will note the original link doesn’t work right now. It was pointed out to me by Robert VerBruggen of National Review that Kleck treats the CDC’s surveys discussed in this paper as if they were national in scope, as Kleck’s original survey was, but they apparently were not. From VerBruggen’s own looks at CDC’s raw data, it seems that over the course of the three years, the following 15 states were surveyed: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. (Those states, from 2000 census data, contained around 27 percent of the U.S. population.) Informed of this, Kleck says he will recalculate the degree to which CDC’s survey work indeed matches or corroborates his, and we will publish a discussion of those fresh results when they come in. But for now Kleck has pulled the original paper from the web pending his rethinking the data and his conclusions.


  1. With the thoughts you'd be thinkin says:

    They most likely didn’t release it because the datasets were 1996,1997 and 1998 and thus go against the Dickey amendment. The Dickey ammendment which many argue prevents gun control research. Likely the data got caught up in that.

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