GVPedia (“Gun Violence Prevention” media) was created by Devin Hughes after his blog project with Evan DeFilippis, “Armed with Reason,” ran its course. Both projects have sought to “arms policymakers, advocates, and the public with facts and data to create evidence-based policy to reduce gun violence.”
Unfortunately, as sometimes happens when facts and data are bootstrapped to pre-existing policy positions, rhetoric can overrun reason. This is unfortunate because it harms the credibility of the source and builds walls where we need productive conversations.
I saw this in a recent video GVPedia pushed out about defensive gun uses (DGUs). The video claims to explain “why relying on ‘good guys’ with guns to stop ‘bad guys’ with guns doesn’t make us safer. #ArmedWithFacts.”
This sub-2 minute video is actually just a teaser for 2 longer videos posted by GVPedia, but there is nothing here that gives me confidence that I should invest time and energy watching the other two. In fact, I barely made it past the first 20 seconds of the teaser.
The video begins not with a story about a lawful defensive gun use but with the story of Theodore Wafer. Wafer is the notorious convicted felon who is serving time for shooting Renisha McBride through the screen door of his Dearborn Heights, Michigan home. (Also, are there no more current examples? I wrote about Wafer ***5 years ago*** on my other blog.)
GVPedia gives no evidence that the Wafer case is in any sense typical of DGUs. It is purely rhetorical, designed to inflame the emotions of those already committed to the GVP cause. In reality, cases of criminal homicides that were claimed to be lawful uses of lethal force in self-defense (i.e., legitimate DGUs) are so rare that they make spectacular news on the rare occasions when they happen. Alongside Wafer we can include Marissa Alexander, Michael Dunn, Byron David Smith, Markus Kaarma, and Michael Drejka.
It is worth keeping in mind that there are 400 million guns, 75 million gun owners at least, and tens of millions of people who can legally carry concealed weapons in public in the United States. Only a small fraction of them become problematic, despite the existence of dreaded Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws.
Contrary to popular belief — espoused mostly by their critics — these laws simply do not allow you to shoot someone and claim self-defense. For example, if you are attacked and the attacker flees, you can’t just shoot that person in the back. Whether you have the obligation to retreat or the privilege of standing your ground under the law is irrelevant. But don’t tell that to GVPedia’s cartoonist, who depicts someone standing their ground and shooting a bad guy who is nearly 10 yards away in the back.
GVPedia also claims in the video that there are just 2,000 defensive gun uses annually in the United States. They do so to downplay the importance of defensive gun uses relative to the harms created by guns. But this numerical estimate is lower than low.
Although there is no agreed upon number of DGUs annually, a typical low end estimate is derived from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). According to the RAND Corporation, “the NCVS estimate of 116,000 DGU incidents per year almost certainly underestimates the true number.”
Maybe I am making too much of this. After all, GVPedia’s YouTube channel has just 11 subscribers and its two DGU videos combined have under 200 total views. But the desire to connect facts and data with public policy positions is powerful, and this therefore represents a style of argumentation that is worth highlighting and criticizing.