Does simply brandishing a gun cause attackers to flee 98% of the time?

[On Sep 14 2002 I posted this to firearmsregprof. I also emailed it to John Lott. ]

Way back in 1993 in talk.politics.guns, C. D. Tavares wrote:

The answer is that the gun never needs to be fired in 98% of the instances of a successful self-defense with a gun. The criminals just leave abruptly, instead."

When I queried him about this, he quickly corrected his error:

Kleck says in the magazine "Social Problems" (2/88):

"there were about 8,700-16,600 non-fatal, legally permissible woundings of criminals by gun armed civilians" annually, and "the rest of the one million estimated defensive gun uses, over 98% involved neither killings nor woundings but rather warning shots fired or guns pointed or referred to."

So I certainly screwed up by not including the warning shots fired, plus the times the victim simply missed. From Kleck's latest survey as reported here, the warning shots and misses are very significant (~14%).

Now, Lott has repeatedly made the same claim: "98% of the time when people use a gun defensively, merely brandishing the weapon is sufficient to stop an attack."

A Google search for "98% lott brandishing gun" finds about 120 different sites where his claim is repeated (and only one of those is critical). Lott himself has made the claim on at least 25 different occasions. Otis Dudley Duncan has compiled a list of these that I extracted the examples below from.

Lott's claims about the source of this statistic have changed over time:

"Polls of American citizens undertaken by organizations like the Los Angeles Times and Gallup showing that Americans defend themselves with guns between 764,000 and 3.6 million times each year, with the vast majority of cases simply involving people brandishing a gun to prevent attack.[1]"
John Lott "Does Allowing Law-Abiding Citizens to Carry Concealed Handguns Save Lives?" Valparaiso University Law Review, 31(2): 355-63, Spring, 1997.
[1]. Gary Kleck & Marc Gertz, Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun, 86 J. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 150, 153, 180, 180-82 (1995).

"Polls by the Los Angeles Times, Gallup and Peter Hart Associates show that there are at least 760,000, and possibly as many as 3.6 million, defensive uses of guns per year. In 98 percent of the cases, such polls show, people simply brandish the weapon to stop an attack."
John Lott "Gun-Lock Proposal Bound to Misfire" Chicago Tribune, August 6, 1998.

"If national surveys are correct, 98 percent of the time that people use guns defensively, they merely have to brandish a weapon to break off an attack."
John Lott "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 3. [Date of publication, May, 1998.]

"People used guns defensively to stop violent crimes over 2 million times in 1997. 98 percent of the time, when people use guns defensively, simply brandishing a gun is sufficient to cause a criminal to break off an attack. In less than 2 percent of the time is the gun fired. About three-quarters of those are warning shots."
Oral statement, paraphrased, TV show, Hardball, CNBC, August 18, 1999

"Guns clearly deter criminals, with Americans using guns defensively over 2 million times each year -- five times more frequently than the 430,000 times guns were used to commit crimes in 1997, according to research by Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck. Kleck's study of defensive gun uses found that ninety-eight percent of the time simply brandishing the weapon is sufficient to stop an attack."
John Lott "Gun Locks: Bound to Misfire" online publication of the Independence Institute, Feb. 9, 2000.

"If a national survey that I conducted is correct, 98 percent of the time that people use guns defensively, they merely have to brandish a weapon to break off an attack."
More Guns, Less Crime, second edition (University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 3. [Publication date, May, 2000]

"As I told Duncan last year in a telephone conversation, I had no idea why the estimated 2.5 million defensive gun uses was attributed to me. The 2.5 million estimate obviously comes from Kleck. The about 2 million reference is the average of the 15 national surveys and is very similar to my own estimate of a little over 2 million defensive uses. The survey that I oversaw interviewed 2,424 people from across the United States. It was done in large part to see for myself whether the estimates put together by other researchers (such as Gary Kleck) were accurate. The estimates that I obtained implied about 2.1 million defensive gun uses, a number somewhat lower than Kleck's. However I also found a significantly higher percentage of them (98 percent) involved simply brandishing a gun. My survey was conducted over 3 months during 1997. I had planned on including a discussion of it in my book, but did not do so because an unfortunate computer crash lost my hard disk right before the final draft of the book had to be turned in."
John R. Lott, Jr.'s Reply to Otis Duncan's recent article in The Criminologist, The Criminologist, vol. 25, no. 5, September/October 2000, page 6. lottduncan

"In fact, in 98% of the cases, simply brandishing a gun is sufficient to stop a crime. Research at Florida State University and at the University of Chicago indicates that only one out of 1,000 defensive gun uses results in the attacker's death."
LA Times Friday, March 30, 2001 Others Fear Being Placed at the Mercy of Criminals by John Lott Jr.

The reason why Lott's story has changed is that neither the Kleck survey nor any of the polls that he cited found that only 2% of the time the weapon was fired. Kleck says, quite clearly, "24% of the incidents involved the defender firing their gun". The other polls Lott mentioned give even higher numbers.

Lott is well aware of this, since he changed the wording in the second edition of "More Guns, Less Crime". However, instead of changing it so that his readers were informed of what national surveys actually found, he claimed that it came from his own survey.

Further, a 2.1 million estimate implies that about 1% of his respondents reported a personal DGU in the past year. With a sample size of 2,424, that's about 25 DGUs. 2% of 25 is 0.5. Clearly it is not possible for half a person to report firing their weapon. OK, so maybe Lott used a design similar to Kleck's where the question asked about household use over a five year span. If he got a similar number of positive responses to Kleck, then he would have got 100 DGU reports and is is conceivable that only two reported shooting. However, he also claims that 3/4 were warning shots---3/4 of 2 is 1.5. Again, it is not possible for half a person to report a non-warning shot.

Otis Dudley Duncan has tried to find out more details about this survey. I quote from an email from him:

I queried him [Lott] by mail and e mail (I sent the mail certified but he claims not to have received the e mail, which was identical) and got nothing more from him besides what is in the passage in his "Reply" except for the detail that the interviewing was done by students using their own computers. They fed their results into his computer, and it was this one that experienced the crash. He assures me that others lost data in that crash too. Strangely enough, in the phone conversation of May 1999, presumably long after the crash, he said nothing about it. And he has left the timing rather ambiguous. If he did a survey in early 1997 but too late to mention in his Valparaiso Law Review article, he would still have got the 98% figure by the time his book went to press. Indeed, he says that he had planned to include a discussion of the survey in the book, but the crash occurred just before his deadline for turning in the book. (This could refer to the 2000 edition, but that would raise other problems.) So, it is not at all clear why he couldn't have said the same thing on p. 3 in 1998 as he did in 2000. The timing strongly suggests that the figure of 98% came first, the story about the survey and its loss in the computer crash came afterward. A second letter to Lott this summer went unanswered. In it I had asked for specific evidence such as a copy of his questionnaire, a copy of the computer printout from which he derived his 98% etc., names of some of the students, etc. He has not answered that letter. I too would like to have an explanation from Lott. I considered the possibility that he indeed thought of doing some kind of survey, and maybe went so far as to have some students do trial interviews, but gave it up for whatever reason. And possibly something of that material went into the computer that subsequently crashed.

No one knows but Lott.

A plausible explanation of what has happened is that Lott made a similar error to CDT, but rather than correct it like CDT did, Lott chose to make up a story about a survey.

I appeal to the readers of this list---if you can think of a better explanation or if you have some knowledge of this mysterious Lott survey, please let me know.

"The reluctance of gun-control advocates to release their data is quite widespread. In May 1997 I tried to obtain data from the Police Foundation about a study that they had recently released by Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig, but after many telephone calls I was told by Earl Hamilton on May 27. "Well, lots of other researchers like Arthur Kellermann do not release their data." I responded by saying that was true, but it was not something that other researchers approved of, nor did it give people much confidence in his results" John Lott, page 291 of "More Guns, Less Crime"
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compiled by Otis Dudley Duncan and Tim Lambert revised 23 Oct 2005 by Tim Lambert Note: With the exception of academic publications, some tapes and some found by LexisNexis search, these were found on the Internet. The web is, of course, not perfectly reliable, and items appearing there…
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