Let’s start with what this is not. It is not a suggestion
that firearms are never used in self-defense. Obviously they are. Two years
ago, a man was shot and killed after dressing as a ninja and breaking into the
Healdsburg home of a former employer. A Cloverdale man shot an intruder in his house later
the same year. Both incidents, by the way, received widespread coverage in the
news media.

And let’s get past supposed biases and motives, too. I’m not
opposed to firearms or private ownership of firearms.

OK, so what’s the point?

We published a letter to the editor today stating that
firearms are used in self-defense at least 750,000 times a year. We received
several others saying the number is as high was 2.5 million. The numbers appear
to be based on a 1995 report by Gary Kleck in the Journal of Criminal Law and
Criminology.

Yet a U.S. Justice Department report published in 1994 and
revised in 2002 says this: “On average in 1987-92 about 83,000 crime victims
per year used a firearm to defend themselves or their property. Three-fourths of the victims who used a
firearm for defense did so during a violent crime; a fourth, during a theft,
household burglary, or motor vehicle theft.” Here’s a link to that report: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/ascii/hvfsdaft.txt

There’s a nine-fold difference between 83,000 and 750,000.
My instinct tells me the real number is closer to 83,000. I base that guess on
25 years of reporting and editing news. If reporters have a bias, it’s a bias for
good stories. And there are few more dramatic than someone facing down a felon
and surviving to tell about it.

If there are untold stories like those in our community, I’d
like to hear them. Or if you can help reconcile the Kleck report with the
Justice Department statistics, I’d be interested in hearing that too.

— Jim Sweeney