February 2, 2012 8:26AM

New Cato Study: Tough Targets

Today, Cato is releasing a new study, Tough Targets: When Criminals Face Armed Resistance from Citizens, by Clayton Cramer and David Burnett. The paper makes use of a news report‐​gathering project to explore in more detail how Americans use guns in self‐​defense.

The paper makes many excellent points, but I’ll mention just three here. First, the average person tends to imagine that these self‐​defense situations involve criminals getting shot. Such cases do occur, but the overwhelming number of self‐​defense cases involve situations where the gun is never fired

The second point relates to the first. The average person usually does not hear about defensive gun cases because news media organizations do not consider the incidents worthy of coverage. If a burglar runs away from a break‐​in when he discovers that someone is at the home and is armed, it may only garner a terse mention in the paper, if it makes the newspaper at all. With no shot fired, no injuries, and no suspect in custody, newspeople typically decline coverage. The point here is not to criticize the news media’s handling of such incidents–rather it is just to remind readers that we tend to hear about criminals using guns to perpetrate crimes, but we do not hear about many self‐​defense cases. In this milieu, it is understandable why many people would develop negative opinions about guns.

Third, when a gun owner does shoot a rapist or is able to hold a burglar at gunpoint until the police arrive on the scene, it is very likely that more than one crime has been prevented. That’s because had the culprit not been stopped, he very likely would have targeted other people as well.

Gun control proponents stress the idea of harm reduction. They say the enactment of firearm regulations will reduce accidents and the criminal use of guns. But if policymakers are truly interested in harm reduction, they must consider the number of crimes that are thwarted by gun owners. Each year gun owners prevent a great deal of criminal mayhem–murders, rapes, batteries, and robberies. Tough Targets gathers dozens and dozens of examples of ordinary people using guns to stop criminal attacks. The defensive use of guns happens much more often than most people realize.

In addition to the paper itself, we have a new page on the Cato web site that will track, to the extent we can, defensive gun cases around the country.

For more information, listen to a podcast interview with co‐​author Clayton Cramer, or see related Cato scholarship.