The Innocents

Per the Heritage Foundation (Heritage), each year, American civilians use firearms defensively between 500,000 and 3 million times. Which is saying that they have been exercising their relatively newly lawful Second Amendment Right to bear arms for the purpose of self-defense a lot. Further research might indicate that the number is well below 700,000 (might even be as low as 11). As Heritage does make note, there is no way of really knowing. After all, it is highly unlikely that a civilian gun owner would report their using of a gun defensively, or that the media would report any such reporting. For these same reasons, there is little or no way of knowing how many times a civilian gun owner used their gun to intimidate, to bully, another person. Good gun use data is hard to come by. Some of what is available is misleading.

Heritage doesn’t show but does make reference to gun use data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Brady:United Against Gun Violence (Brady) uses CDC data made available in one of its listings.

That listing shows that 327 people were shot each day in the US in 2021.

Of those 327:

  • 117 people are shot and killed
  • 210 survive gunshot injuries
  • 90 are intentionally shot by someone else and survive
  • 46 are murdered
  • 67 die from gun suicide
  • 10 survive an attempted gun suicide
  • 1 is killed unintentionally
  • 90 are shot unintentionally and survive
  • 2 are killed by legal intervention*
  • 4 are shot by legal intervention and survive
  • 1 died but the intent was unknown
  • 12 are shot and survive but the intent was unknown

(This is not easy to read!!!)

An average of 327 people shot each day equals a total of 119,355 for the year, 2021.

Brady’s listing uses the term ‘legal intervention’ for the 6 people shot each day (2 killed/day + 4 survived/day survived = 6 shot/day). 6 shot/day x 365 days = 2,190/yr recorded legal intervention incidents in 2021. In the listing, legal intervention refers to instances where law enforcement shoots someone in the course of carrying out their duty. This doesn’t tell us how many times law enforcement used a gun in 2021 for whatever reason. 2,190 is likely only a fraction of the number of times they did. 2,190 is a tiny-tiny fraction, (0.073%) of Heritage’s 3,000,000 estimate for crimes prevented by armed civilians. 2,190 is only 1.8% of the 119,355 total shootings.

Only 1.8% of the shootings in 2021 were by law enforcement. The other (327/day – 6/day) x 365 days/yr = 117,165 {98% of 119,355}, were not. Another thing the listing doesn’t tell us is: How many of the 327/day were shot by armed civilians acting in self-defense? How many of the 327 were shot by an armed civilian acting to prevent a crime other than assault or battery? How many were shot by an armed civilian using their weapon to attack, bully or intimidate someone? How many times beyond the 119,355 shootings, in 2021, in any year, were guns used to threaten, intimidate, bully? The Brady listing of CDC data doesn’t come close to telling us all we want to know about gun use. Good gun use data is hard to come by; defensive gun use data nigh impossible.

Another Brady based on CDC data listing shows that annually, 7,957 children and teens are shot in the United States. That, of those 7,957:

  • 2,029 children and teens die from gun violence
  • 1,130 are murdered
  • 6,294 children and teens survive gunshot injuries
  • 2,788 are intentionally shot by someone else and survive
  • 732 die from gun suicide
  • 166 survive an attempted gun suicide
  • 20 are killed by legal intervention
  • 101 are shot by legal intervention and survive
  • 106 are killed unintentionally
  • 2,893 are shot unintentionally and survive
  • 52 die but the intent was unknown
  • 380 are and survive shot but the intent is unknown

Per Everytown Research, at least 19,000 children and teens are shot and wounded or killed each year. Whether Brady or Everytown be right; neither tell us how many of the children were armed, or how many were shot in self-defense. Or, how many of the 7,957, or 19,000 children and teens were innocent victims of gun violence. That would be most; wouldn’t it?

According to Gun Violence Archive (GVA); as of July 15, 2023 (i.e., in the first 6 ½ months of the year) 43,431 Americans were victims of gun violence Of these 43,431 victims, 20,243 survived their injury, and 23,188 died. Only 1,441 (3.3%) of the 43,431, shootings were attributable to law enforcement action. Only 620 (1.4%) of the 43,431 were attributable to defensive gun use (DGU) of a firearm; i.e., a civilian using a gun in self-defense. The remaining 41,370 (95%) shootings were due to easy access to firearms by people willing to use them for purposes other than self-defense. Most likely, most of these 95% were innocent victims of gun violence.

At long last — some defensive gun use data. GVA tells us that 620 (1.4%) of the 43,431 were attributable to defensive gun use (DGU) of a firearm. If the 1.4% is close to being accurate and representative; then, per (0.014 x 119,355 = 1,671), some ~1,671 of the Brady/CDC 119,355 shootings were DGU. A fur piece from Heritage’s 3 million.

Also according to GVA; as of July 15, there have been 382 mass shootings so far in 2023. Excepting the suspected shooter(s), all the victims of these mass shootings were innocent victims of gun violence. During this same period, 3,590 children or teenagers were victims of gun violence; 980 of whom died. By any reasonable definition, all of the 3,590 children and teenagers were innocent victims.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary: Self-defense is the use of force to defend oneself.

Legal Dictionary: Self-defense is the use of reasonable force to protect oneself or members of the family from bodily harm from the attack of an aggressor, if the defender has reason to believe he/she/they is/are in danger. Self-defense is a common defense by a person accused of assault, battery or homicide. The force used in self-defense may be sufficient for protection from apparent harm (not just an empty verbal threat) or to halt any danger from attack, but cannot be an excuse to continue the attack or use excessive force. Examples: an unarmed man punches Allen Alibi, who hits the attacker with a baseball bat. That is legitimate self-defense, but Alibi cannot chase after the attacker and shoot him or beat him senseless. If the attacker has a gun or a butcher knife and is verbally threatening, Alibi is probably warranted in shooting him. Basically, appropriate self-defense is judged on all the circumstances. Reasonable force can also be used to protect property from theft or destruction. Self-defense cannot include killing or great bodily harm to defend property, unless personal danger is also involved, as is the case in most burglaries, muggings or vandalism.

Some 80 million American civilians own an estimated 393 million guns. According to the Pew Research Center (Pew): About half of these gun owners say they often (13%) or sometimes (40%) go shooting or to a gun range. Some 30% say they rarely go shooting and 18% say they never do. About half of gun owners say they often (13%) or sometimes (40%) go shooting or to a gun range. Some 30% say they rarely go shooting and 18% say they never do. Hunting is less common: Roughly a third of gun owners say they often (12%) or sometimes (22%) go hunting. Some 22% say they rarely go hunting and 44% say they never do.

According to Pew, 48% of these gun owners say they bought their gun(s) for self-protection (self-defense). 48% of 80 million is 38.4 million, or ~12% of the US population. 38.4 million is some 19.2% of the ~200 million Americans over 21. In 2021, the rate of aggravated assault in the United States was 284.4 cases per 100,000 of the population.

These 284.4 cases per 100,000, ~3/1,000, ~0.3%, are a measure of the failure of law enforcement. One in five of adult Americans feeling the need to buy a gun for self-defense is in some ways a testament to that failure. The difference between 0.3% and 19.2% is a lot of paranoia.

Neither George Zimmerman nor Kyle Rittenhouse were intent on self-defense. Both went looking for someone to shoot, to kill. Both were enabled by state laws that made doing so less likely that they would be held accountable under law for shooting someone. Else these state laws, they would have stayed home and their innocent victims would have survived.

Each year, some 24,500 Americans, acting on impulse, die from suicide by firearm. Rather the mental health help needed, they were given easy access to a gun. What could go wrong?

In 2021, some 709 innocents were victims of mass shootings. Of late, in 2023, we have seen a spate of mass shootings committed by teenage boys or young men at social gatherings. They, too, were acting on impulse. Teenage boys and young men, in combination with easily accessible alcohol, drugs, and guns; what could go wrong?

Both the victims of the suicides and those of the mass shootings were innocents. Both could have been prevented by reasonable gun regulations.

Justice Scalia was joined by Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Alito, and Thomas in the US Supreme Court’s, 2008, District of Columbia v. Heller (Heller) decision. Even after reading in the right of self-defense, the Heller decision makes no mention of the rights of innocents. Nor does it give anyone the right to use a firearm to intimidate or bully, or kill. Nor does it take into account people acting out on impulse. The Heller majority decision takes into account the inherent right to self-defense but not the inherent danger of firearms. Consequentially, a lot of those 393 million guns possessed by Americans were bought with the intent to use them to intimidate, to bully, to even shoot, another human being.

Rights not accorded by the Constitution may be taken away by local, state, or federal government. By finding that the Constitution’s Second Amendment accorded citizens the right to bear arms for the purpose of self-defense; the Heller decision precluded these governmental agencies from taking away the right to bear arms for the purpose of self-defense.

The majority in Heller did not find that the Constitution’s Second Amendment accorded civilians the right to bear an arm for the purpose of intimidating, bullying, or shooting anyone. Many, perhaps most, of our citizens, find the proximity, the display of a firearm intimidating. Why not have a law outlawing the flagrant and purposeful display of a firearm? Why not make bullying with a firearm, bullying of any form, illegal? Wisconsin, Florida, and several other gun-lobby-friendly states (more than half of the 50) have passed so-called stand-your-ground laws that make it legal for civilians to use a gun to kill other civilians. The Federal Government could step up and make it a crime for civilians to shoot anyone other than in self-defense as it is described in the Legal Dictionary.

The majority in Heller, especially Justice Scalia, spared no effort in finding that the Constitution’s Second Amendment accorded civilians the right to bear arms for the purpose of self-defense.

Collectively, they expended no effort in considering the right of citizens to move about in a society free of the fear of being shot.

They expended none in finding guns to be inherently dangerous and thus in need of being strictly regulated.

The inherent, human, natural right of innocent gun violence victims to live seemingly never occurred to them.

More than one-half of US gun violence victims were suicides. Grave evidence that the majority in Heller did not weigh well the consequences of their decision.

The majority decision noted the inherent right of self-defense. Surely, as an inherent right, there was no need to read the right of self-defense into the Constitution’s Second Amendment. Inherent means that no one has the right to deny us this right. The right of self-defense wasn’t in the Second Amendment because it didn’t need to be.

The more horrific consequences of the Heller decision stream from the original“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The Heller decision has since been conflated to mean ‘the right to arm oneself’; to legitimize a claim for the right to bear arms asserted by armed right-wing militia groups formed up in the early 1990s. The majority may not have intended for this to happen, but most of them were on the Court in big part because of their leanings on this matter; a matter being pushed by the gun lobby. (In the Heller case, Justice Scalia acted as advocate for the gun lobby). Consequentially, the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo movement…, et al. Et al claiming their right to bear arms, to form a militia under the Second Amendment. These right-wing militia even claim the right to use their military-grade weapons to overthrow the government. A long way from the right to self-defense. Damned consequences!

Inherent rights are those which are inherited at birth. Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Natural rights are those that are not dependent on the laws or customs of any particular culture or government, and so are universal, fundamental, and inalienable.

Some rights come with citizenship. Under the US Constitution, a citizen of the United States inherently has those rights not forbidden by law. Throughout much of our history, the Nation has been divided over the use of the law to deny inherent rights. Some Americans claim the right to tell others what they cannot do. Even if that denial of right violates an inherent, human, or natural right. Even if the exercising of the denied right did not infringe on the rights of others in any way.

The Constitution probably should have said that inherent, human, and natural rights are inalienable rights excepting those cases where the exercising of one’s right infringes the rights of others. Instead, it gave the individual states the right to deny their citizens their rights. Consequentially, some states, and the federal government now find it necessary to grant people those rights that should have been theirs from the beginning.

The right of self-defense is an inherent right. One that no state should be able to deny. Surely, the right to be free from slavery is an inherent, human, and natural right that no law should be able to abrogate. Surely the right of a woman to make her own reproductive choices is an inherent, human, and natural right that no law should be able to abrogate. Surely the right to go about one’s normal course of business without fear of assault or intimidation is an inherent, human, and natural right. The protection of these rights is a basic responsibility of government. No government should be allowed to entrust policing, law enforcement, responsibilities to civilians.

The original sin of the Nation’s Constitution was according states the right to deny their any of their citizens their inherent, human, and natural rights without due cause as defined by federal laws.

Almost all of the 119,355 gun violence victims in 2021 were innocent of any wrongdoing; were innocents who were denied their inherent, human, and natural rights, Were innocents whose government failed them. No government should ever be allowed to take away any right from anyone unless that person is convicted of a crime. And, then only do so to an extent proportional to and relevant to the crime committed.

— P.S. —

Are there more instances of defensive gun use than gun crimes?

No. If we’re going by NCVS data, DGUs do not outnumber gun crimes. There are seven times as many gun crimes (484,800) as there are instances of defensive gun use (70,040) each year, according to the survey.

Leading researchers back that up. The Harvard Injury Control Center has found that guns are used far more often to intimidate others than in self-defense. 

If most academics go by the crime victim survey data, why do the higher DGU estimates persist?

Because they’ve been repeatedly amplified by the gun lobby, mainstream media outlets, and even the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For years, the CDC cited DGU estimates from both the NCVS and Kleck’s surveys, saying that estimates range from “60,000 to 2.5 million defensive gun uses each year,” and linking to a 2013 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that cites Kleck.

But that changed last month, when the CDC removed those figures and replaced them with more general language:

Community gun violence is a form of interpersonal gun violence (assaults) that takes place between non-intimately related individuals in cities. This form of gun violence disproportionately impacts Black and Hispanic/Latino individuals. It occurs in public places — streets, parks, front porches — in cities across the United States, and it makes up the majority of gun homicides that occur in the United States.1 Most community gun violence is highly concentrated within under-resourced city neighborhoods. As a result, whole neighborhoods are exposed to and impacted by the adverse health effects of gun violence.2 The neighborhoods disproportionately affected by community gun violence are the same neighborhoods impacted by social and economic inequities that can be traced to racism, segregation, and current discriminatory policies, like redlining, exclusionary zoning, and mass incarceration.3,4 These inequities often are at the root of community gun violence. Consequently, Black and Hispanic/Latino Americans are disproportionately impacted by community gun violence.

And on and on ….. Some 15 pages of data like these went into writing this piece