Cato Institute Policy Report – March / April 2012

The media rarely make a point of reporting stories involving defensive gun use.

“In this milieu,” the authors of a new White Paper write, “where criminal gun use makes the evening news, but self-defense cases get little to no coverage, it is understandable why many people would develop negative opinions concerning guns.” But in “Tough Targets: When Criminals Face Armed Resistance from Citizens,” scholars Clayton E. Cramer and David Burnett present their case for reconsidering this stance.

They begin by giving an overview of the academic studies of defensive gun use — showing that “the survey data has severe limitations” — before supplementing it with thousands of news reports gathered over an eight-year period. These data offer a distinct advantage in that they provide “a rich set of information about motives, circumstances, victims, and criminals.”

The authors go on to examine recent legal trends surrounding self-defense, before exploring the specific manner in which people use guns to fend off criminal attacks. “The overwhelming majority of defensive gun use stories,” they find, “involve ordinary and decent people defending themselves against criminals.” Cramer and Burnett offer dozens of case studies in which everyday citizens exercise judgment and competency when handling a gun.

In the end, they acknowledge that bearing arms is clearly not always the solution in criminal confrontations. However, it is impossible to deny that “a great number of tragedies — murders, rapes, assaults, robberies — have been thwarted by self-defense gun uses.” They conclude that, despite the fears of many gun-control advocates, “gun owners stop a lot of criminal mayhem.” Please visit for an interactive map displaying scores of documented stories of defensive gun use.