Are these estimates plausible? Could it really be true that Americans use guns for self-protection as often as 2.1 to 2.5 million times a year? The estimate may seem remarkable in comparison to expectations based on conventional wisdom, but it is not implausibly large in comparison to various gun-related phenomena. There are probably over 220 million guns in private hands in the U.S., implying that only about 1% of them are used for defensive purposes in any one year--not an impossibly high fraction. In a December 1993 Gallup survey, 49% of U.S. households reported owning a gun, and 31% of adults reported personally owning one. These figures indicate that there are about 47.6 million households with a gun, with perhaps 93 million, or 49% of the adult U.S. population living in households with guns, and about 59.1 million adults personally owning a gun. Again, it hardly seems implausible that 3%(2.5 million/93 million) of the people with immediate access to a gun could have used one defensively in a given year.Therefore, the significance of the few gun control measures found to be effective should not be overlooked. There is empirical support for some moderate gun controls. I favor a national "instant records check," which would screen for high-risk gun buyers similar to owner license and purchase permit systems, but without the delays and arbitrary administration which sometimes characterizes those controls. The system should cover nondealer transactions as well as dealer sales, and apply to rifles and shotguns, as well as handguns. Also, tighter licensing of gun dealers and increased enforcement of carry laws may be useful.
Gun control is a very minor, though not entirely irrelevant, part of the solution to the violence problem, just as guns are of only very minor significance as a cause of the problem. The U.S. has more violence than other nations for reasons unrelated to its extraordinarily high gun ownership. Fixating on guns seems to be, for many people, a fetish which allows them to ignore the more intransigent causes of American violence, including its dying cities, inequality, deteriorating family structure, and the all- pervasive economic and social consequences of a history of slavery and racism. And just as gun control serves this purpose for liberals, equally useless "get tough" proposals, like longer prison terms, mandatory sentencing, and more use of the death penalty serve the purpose for conservatives. All parties to the crime debate would do well to give more concentrated attention to more difficult, but far more relevant, issues like how to generate more good-paying jobs for the underclass which is at the heart of the violence problem
Huge numbers of Americans not only have access to guns, but the overwhelming majority of gun owners, if one can believe their statements, are willing to use a gun defensively. In a December 1989 national survey, 78% of American gun owners stated that they would not only be willing to use a gun defensively in some way, but would be willing to shoot a burglar. The percentage willing to use a gun defensively in some way, though not necessarily by shooting someone, would presumably be even higher than this.