In the weeks since the Connecticut school massacre, some of the most intense debate has swirled around how to keep guns from criminals without infringing on the ability of lawful gun owners to protect themselves and their families, reports the Associated Press. Self-defense is now the top reason gun owners cite for having a firearm, a new survey shows, a figure that has nearly doubled since 1999. After years of study, there is little clarity on how, exactly, Americans use guns to protect themselves in moments of jeopardy, or how often.
Researchers known for sharp disagreement on the self-defense riddle say the answers may be shifting dramatically because of a steep drop in crime, an increase in guns, and state laws giving owners more leeway to wield them. The decline in the national crime rate has researchers considering the possibility, even the likelihood, that many fewer Americans are drawing firearms to protect themselves. “I’m pretty confident that whatever the number is, it did go down [ ] because overall crime went down,” said Gary Kleck, a Florida State University criminologist whose 1990s research, widely cited by gun rights activists, concluded that Americans drew their firearms in self-defense up to 2.5 million times a year. That translates to about 3 percent of all gun owners during the course of a single year. The drop in crime means there are far fewer occasions now for Americans to use guns for self-protection, Kleck said, making it likely that the number of annual self-defense usages of guns “should be about half as big now as they were back then, 20 years ago.”