George Zimmerman is NOT the Typical Story of Defensive Gun Use

by Matt MacBradaigh:

The trial of George Zimmerman over the shooting of Trayvon Martin has stirred national debate on race relations and on guns and violence in America. President Obama, who by many accounts has lost politically in his push for tighter gun control, has exploited the incident stating after the not-guilty verdict that “We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis.”

George ZimmermanAnecdotal stories are interesting because they’re relatable; they help us see the human side of things by putting names and faces to what can otherwise be boring information. But no serious scientist, researcher, or analyst will rely on anecdotes because for every one that makes a certain conclusion seem right, there’s another that makes a conflicting conclusion seem right. In many ways, coverage of the Zimmerman trial is about moving one agenda or narrative forward, and the gun control narrative is no different; but the facts demonstrate that citizens plus guns is not bad for society. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – both anecdotes as well as the substantial body of hard data demonstrate that the Zimmerman narrative of reckless gun use is the aberration, not the model, of defensive gun use

In contrast to the anecdote evidence that guns embolden overzealous neighborhood watch members to harm innocent people, consider this: In January this year, Melinda Herman shot Paul Ali Slater, an ex-con, while defending herself and her two 9-year old children in their Loganville, Georgia home. Though she shot at him six times, striking him five times, he survived. CNN reported that “Walton County Sheriff Joe Chapman — whose office responded to the shooting at the Hermans’ home — said he believes the mother and her two children were in a life-and-death situation and she had no choice but to exercise her constitutional right to self-defense.”

In Magnolia, Texas, Erin (who asked to be identified only by her first name), a mother of a 6-year old boy, Kaden, defended herself against three home invaders with a gun. She shot one and the other two fled the scene. She told local Houston news reporters she believes that having a gun, “saved my life.” These anecdotes were all in the context of being at home, but what about outside of one’s home?

In July this year in Philadelphia, police say an armed man turned the tables on three gunmen who tried to rob him. The would-be victim shot at his three attackers, wounding one, and causing them to flee the scene. Investigators say two of the suspects dropped the wounded attacker of at a local hospital before also fleeing from the hospital. The local Philadelphia NBC news channel reported the wounded suspect would be charged.

The Associated Press reported in June, an armed man trying to rob customers outside an Atlanta shoe store was fatally shot by one of the patrons waiting in line to buy LeBron James sneakers. Witnesses told police a man armed with a gun tried to rob people standing outside the store when another customer drew his own handgun and shot the robber, who died after fleeing just a few yards. Atlanta police officer John Chafee says the shooter won’t be charged because investigators determined he fired in self-defense.

These stories didn’t garner the national attention the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case did, but they do illustrate the point that real life people use guns for legitimate self-defense and allow us to ask how we would feel in a similar situation.

Anecdotes can help us to relate the overall data to, but what does the data says about how often Americans defend their lives with guns? Research shows that defensive gun use is a common occurrence—a fact that’s even acknowledged by those typically opposed to gun rights. For example, gun control advocates tend to favor David Hemenway, a skeptic of gun ownership. That reliance is misplaced. Hemenway’s methodology has come under attack for among other things, refusing to release the data behind his studies, and his conclusions have even been rejected by the 7th Circuit . However, even Hemenway’s study in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology suggests that defensive gun use (DGU) occurs more than 152,000 times annually. That means that even according to a leading gun skeptic with bias against gun ownership and questionable methodology, private citizens used guns to protect their lives and the lives of others in over 152,000 individual cases. And from most accounts, Hemenway drastically underestimates the number of defensive gun use.

Other researchers have found defensive gun use is more widespread. Another study in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, contends that the correct number of DGU is between 256,000-373,000. A Department of Justice study conducted by Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig found 1.5 million “genuine” instances of DGU. Cook and Ludwig’s study was done in contrast to the classic Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology study by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, which found 2.5 million annual instances of DGU. Presumably because of how large the number of DGU in Kleck and Gertz’ study, it is widely dismissed by gun control advocates as though Kleck and Gertz were on the NRA payroll. However the study was commissioned by President Clinton and Kleck is a liberal Democrat.

A July 2013 report “Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence” from the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which was ordered by President Obama, states “Defensive uses of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence, although the exact number remains disputed. Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million per year,  in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms.”

Moreover, the data demonstrates that firearms are used only in small portion of violent crimes. FBI Uniform Crime Reports show that approximately 9,000 homicides per year that involve firearms. There were a total of  1.2 million violent crimes in 2011, of which homicides is one type of violent crime. However, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a Department of Justice agency, reports “less than 10% of all nonfatal violent crime from 1993 to 2011” involved a firearm. This means less than 1 out of every 10 violent crimes is committed with a firearm, and the vast majority of violent crimes – more than 9 out of 10 – is committed without any firearm.

What does this all mean? With the number of firearm homicides approximately 9,000 and less than 10% of non-fatal violent crime involving guns, the fact that research shows the number of defensive gun uses from “almost all annual survey[s]…rang[es] from 500,000 to 3 million” is significant. Even at 152,000, it’s significant. Gun control advocates would like to exploit the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case to argue that guns make us less safe, but the stories of Melinda Herman, Erin a mother of a 6-year old, a Philadelphia man accosted by three armed assailants while walking alone, and attempted armed robbery while waiting in line to buy shoes tell a different story. We can imagine what if would feel like if we were in those situations with our children, shopping, or walking alone. Against the national backdrop of crime statistics and defensive gun use, these stories – not the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman one – paint the more realistic picture that guns are often used for legitimate self-defense and saving lives.


Matt MacBradaigh is a husband, father, Christian, patriot, and Conservative, who lives in the Pacific Northwest, outside of Seattle. He has written on Second Amendment issues for both The Brenner Brief and PolicyMic


  1. Bob Dohse says:

    Excellent use of references. Outstanding points that lead to a logical conclusion on the issue of gun rights vs gun control.

    Thanks for all the hard work to produce a great share-worthy article, Matt. I look forward to another informative piece … soon, I hope.

  2. Refreshing to read a clear and factual article on the gun control issue! I’m so sick of all the media hype and propagandists twisting facts. Nice job!

  3. The Dangerous Guy Is Coming from Inside Your House!! says:

    1) If Zimmerman’s murking of Trayvon Martin is an abberation then why do so many Second Amendment or Bust types defend him vigourously?

    2) You lose points for mocking the idea of anecdotes-as-evidence and then basing the strongest part of your argument entirely on anecdotes.

    3) Violent crime has been decreasing in this country, so the idea that there are 500,000 to 3,000,000 instances of legitimate defensive gun use is patently absurd.

    4) Almost 9,000 homicides via firearm in 2011, yes. Out of a total of almost 13,000. You seem to have noticed that this damages your case, so you pivoted to non-fatal violent crime, which makes sense because you’re more likely to survive a violent altercation if you’re not getting shot. How THAT supports your argument is a mystery, but I’m not sensing rational thought here.

    5) The main thrust of your argument is that, in general, the more times someone has to use a gun to defend themselves from a violent criminal, the better. In other words, that there were at minimum 500,000 instances of someone being forced to shoot at someone else for their protection is in fact a sign of a healthy society.

    6) I suggest Risperidone, right away.

    • Kerry Herring says:

      1) 2A “types” tend to be supporters of the law. The law is with GZ.

      2) I too was a bit concerned about the use of anecdotes. However, Matt seems to be using them here just as a counter to TM/GZ, which kind of proved his point about anecdotes note proving much. So he then gets into the hard data.

      3) I think you have a faulty understanding of the relationship between GDU and violent crime.

      4) To say that Matt is shying away from anything is absurd. He could have just said that gun usage in violent crimes is very low and left it at that, but he didn’t. He included the deaths caused be guns as well. The point he is making is that gun usage is not nearly as prolific as the fear mongers would have us believe.

      5) Wow. Just wow. The main thrust is that guns are used WAY more often to PROTECT lives than commit crimes. I supposed in your world it would be healthier if those 500,000 had become victims of crime. NICE!

      • Matt MacBradaigh says:

        Kerry, the use of the anecdotes is so that people who find hard data the equivalent of an insurance seminar or going to the dentist can relate to/illustrate the fact that guns are used for lawful defense & save lives. The hard data alone also tells us that, but for some, it’s like stale cheese. But anecdotes are necessary to support that point (guns are often used for lawful defense & save lives).

        Hope that helps.


      • The Dangerous Guy Is not Responding to Reason!! says:

        “4) To say that Matt is shying away from anything is absurd. He could have just said that gun usage in violent crimes is very low and left it at that, but he didn’t. He included the deaths caused be guns as well. The point he is making is that gun usage is not nearly as prolific as the fear mongers would have us believe.”

        That’s exactly the wrong thing he wants to say though because if gun usage is actually low, then why bother owning a gun to protect yourself? The NRA is trying to convince people that the crime rate has never been higher, but is curiously mute about the prospect of selling guns to poor black people in Chicago. That’s because this is not an honest attempt at stopping crime, this is just a marketing ploy targeted at bored white suburbanites. The fear mongers are the NRA and its acolytes who need to scare all the suburban folks into thinking that a horde of rapists are ready to burst through the door, and only an AR-15 (Now on sale!) can stop them (Special offer! Act now!).

        • Matt MacBradaigh says:

          “The NRA is trying to convince people…”

          The echo chamber is inside your own head. Nowhere in is this article is the NRA, or what they are or are not trying to do mentioned. The NRA is not relevant to the point; the point is not dependant on the NRA, or your silly straw man argument about the NRA. Nor is the article about AR-15 rifles (another straw man you’re attempting to construct). None of the anecdotes – including Zimmerman – have anything to do with rifles, much less AR-15 as a specific type of semi-automatic rifle. None of the hard data published in peer-reviewed journals has anything to do with AR-15s.

          But keep posting.

          It demonstrates to everyone your foaming-at-the-mouth.

    • Matt MacBradaigh says:

      “Truly, you have a dizzying intellect”

      “Wait till I get going!”…

      1. You start off with a logical fallacy, ‘If B then not A’, like gun “2A or bust types” defending him makes him or does not make him an abberation. Second, this article does NOT attempt to defend Zimmerman. Third, abberation is common based on the hard data linked in the article. Fourth, I suspect “2A or bust types” defend the guy b/c unscupulous politicians are trying to exploit this incident for agenda.

      2. Mocking? Mocking did you say? Your intellectual prowess is showing. No, I did not “mock” anecdotes – indeed, I credit them for being powerful illustrators that give us means to relate to hard data. But I did say that anecdotes can’t give us the whole story. This is why I cite the hard data in addition to using anecdotes that paint a picture opposite of the one attempted by Zimmerman exploiters. Nice try though.

      3. Patently absurd b/c you said so? Okay then. Case closed. I guess that academic scholars publishing in peer-reviewed publications as well as those at the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can go pound sand, because an internet troll said – with no citable basis other than “crime’s going down” (and therefore my conclusion is self-evident?) – said so. Whew! What a relief.

      4. The scope of the article is not just to compare homicides. As you point out, even that is going down. In fact, cut in half since 1992. So your point about guns being the bad guy is?…. Right. No point. But you completely miss the point on why firearm homicides were included in the first place. They’re ‘fatal’, hence “homicide”. Add that number – 9,000 – to the non-fatal violent crime with a gun and you have the total number of instances a gun is used in a violent crime, fatal or non-fatal. Sensing rational thought yet? If not, perhaps get checked out. Total violent crime is 1.2 mil. Less than 10% means no more than 120,000 – includes fatal and non-fatal. 9k out of that is fatal. Compared to even 152,000 DGU, to say nothing of any of the other studies citing 250-370,000, 1.6mil, 2.5mil, or 500k-3mill gives one a comparative basis for comparing defensive use vs. offensive criminal use.

      5. You apparently have no clue about the thesis (that’s “main point”) of the article. Only a great fool would think that it is to claim that the “ore times someone has to use a gun to defend themselves from a violent criminal, the better”. Herr derr derp!

      6. Risperidone? You’re a lic. Psychiatrist?

      • The Dangerous Guy Is not Responding to Reason!! says:

        1) Which politicians (of any notable rank) called for greater gun control in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murking? The most anyone says are the usual hapless liberal types calling into question the wisdom of a law that allows people to blow each other away basically at will as long as they concoct a convincing “Officer I felt my life was in danger” shpiel. And that law has very little chance of being anyway. What’s the panic for, bub?

        2) Anecdotes are powerful illustrators because people have difficulty wrapping their heads around statistics and abstract concepts. That is not a point in favor of their veracity, however, which is why you go balls to the wall to cite the most white-knuckle examples and not, say, all the examples of gun owners shooting each other in the face because they’re idiots. You don’t get to blow hot and cold on this one.

        3) Yeah they can go pound sand because there is no widely accepted notion as to what constitutes “defensive gun use.” Protip: When estimates on this phenomenon range from 50,000 to 3 million, chances are the methodology on collecting the data is not mature enough to draw a useful conclusion. Incidentally, along with the crime rate, gun ownership has also been declining so your notion that more guns = less crime failed before you even opened your mouth.

        4) Right, so your point is schizophrenically muddled. You want to say that guns are super-useful for protecting yourself but you don’t have any reliable data to prove that they do more good than harm. And you have no real response to when people point out that you’re more likely to die if you get shot, which makes people think maybe if we could somehow decrease the number of guns in the country, then the chances of someone successfully dying in an assault go down, which is a logical conclusion. You can’t counter that by magicking up a statistic that hasn’t been established yet and is laughable when you compare it to other trends.

        5) That is the thesis of this article. That’s why you used the anecdotes. The date you cite is a pile of numbers, many of which are of dubious value, so you have to go back to the Death Wish stories to drive home the point. That’s why they’re above the fold and the morass of “defensive gun use” numbers are tucked away towards the bottom.

        The reliable data we do have suggests that guns aren’t a major factor in overall crime, just in one type of crime, which means their value in stopping crime is overall questionable. That’s why you have to hype the DGU number because then you get to claim that guns magically stopped up to THREE MILLION CRIMES!!!!!! a year and think of what would’ve happened if people weren’t firing their guns in those DGUs!!! Consequently, this is causing you to argue that people having to go to the mattresses to stop the THREE MILLION CRIMINALS!!!! is preferable to the notion that maybe people don’t actually need guns to protect themselves and that their value in keeping society polite is overblown, which is devastating to the NRA’s current marketing strategy. Hence we get a flood of PR-generated statistics like DGUs to prove that guns are actually super-useful and people should buy guns before THREE MILLION CRIMINALS!!!! burst through the door and kill everyone in their sleep.

        The problem is that some people can’t distinguish between marketing dreck and reality, hence they are in danger of suffering a psychotic break, hence…

        6) Hurry!

        • Matt MacBradaigh says:

          “Protip: When estimates on this phenomenon range from 50,000 to 3 million…”

          I’m sure that everyone can see you are the Pro, here. ROFL

          First, there isn’t any study – not even your beloved Hemenway (I’m assuming, since he’s the most ravenously anti-gun that you two have a lot in common) – cites 50k. Even Hemenway cites 152k. Smith cites 250-370k (same Journal as Hemenway is published). Cook & Ludwig found 1.5mil. That study was commissioned by the NRA…oops! afraid not! It was actually commissioned by Pres. Clinton. Not exactly “the gun industry” you anti-gunner mouth foamers like to claim in your false narratives. Kleck & Gertz was also commissioned by Clinton. The latest study from Institute of Medicine and National Research Council for the Centers for Disease Control was commissioned by Obama – also not exactly pro-gun.

          But since you don’t like the findings of any of them, all you can come up with is “THEY’RE ALL WRONG!”. Okay, cupcake. Whatever you say. Where’s your peer-reviewed study again? Right. That’s what I thought.

          As for “THREE MILLION”… who cares? Seriously. Have a heart attack while you’re at it. Even if beloved Hemenway is correct at 152k, it still more than 129k (simple math, I know, but try to follow: 1.2million violent crimes x’s 10% rate of non-fatal violent crime committed with a gun = 120k non-fatal violent crimes committed with a gun + 9k fatal violent crimes – homicide – with a gun = 129k total crimes with a gun. I know, difficult, right?). But that’s just one study.

          Your inane “logic” is to lump every study together and conclude the methodology is wrong on all of them without examining ANY of them – simply because you don’t like their findings.

          Anyone reading through can see for themselves what’s going on. Thanks for making it easy to spot you.

  4. Pingback: "George Zimmerman is NOT the Typical Story of Defensive Gun Use" | The Gun Feed

  5. and Zimmerman’s was also legitimate self defense…as the trials verdict says…..

  6. “…the Zimmerman narrative of reckless gun use is the aberration, not the model, of defensive gun use”

    No agenda in this article, no siree! Reckless would have been if Z had drawn his weapon as before M reappeared, before he was told he had a problem now and was assaulted. Instead he waited until his nose was broken and his head was being repeatedly bashed against concrete. Some recklessness! Poor excuse for a vigilante, too!

    • SCOUTMASTER says:

      I assumed the author meant that the that was the ‘Anti’s’ narrative. Though I was disappointed that the author did not stand that narrative on it’s head with the facts of the case.

      I have no problem using the Zimmerman case as a anecdotal example of defensive gun use. My ‘narrative’ goes like this:

      “Innocent man made to stand ‘SHOW’ trial to appease a political groups agenda. The police chief was forced to resign and the original prosecutor made to step aside for refusing to participate in the mans railroading.”

      • Matt MacBradaigh says:

        Scoutmaster, I agree with your narrative regarding the show trial. The entirety of the Zimmerman media circus is the subject of several articles. For this article on The Bell Towers, I chose one focus – that guns are actually used for legitimate defensive purpose (the main lawful purpose of the Second Amendment per the Supreme Court, D.C. vs Heller) more often than they are for wackadoo vigilantes, which is the MSM narrative regarding Z’s use of his gun.

        Rather than write one article several thousand words long, I have several other articles on the Brenner Brief that address the other narratives of the Zimmerman case. You can find them here:


  7. “Though she shot at him six times, striking him five times, he survived.”

    Better shot placement and/or heavier caliber…

    • Matt MacBradaigh says:


      True that. She was pretty new to shooting & her husband bought her a .38 revolver. IMO, it’s a classic husband mistake thinking that it’s “wife friendly”. Even a 9mm is pretty easy for most women to handle. Higher capacity and the right choice of ammo for it can make a big difference.

  8. “the Zimmerman narrative of reckless gun use”

    “overzealous neighborhood watch members to harm innocent people”

    Is there another Zimmerman case I don’t know about? How about explaining what these comments are supposed to mean? They don’t seem to describe the facts of the George Zimmerman case.

    • Matt MacBradaigh says:

      Joe, I think that’s the point. They don’t fit the “facts” the the Zimmerman, but unfortunately many in the MSM haven’t let that stop them from pimping a Zimmerman narrative that doesn’t fit the facts. The narratives claim that he was an overzealous vigilante and that he was reckless with his gun (i.e. saying a grown man with a gun “stalking” an innocent minor armed with skittles). I don’t concur with those characterizations obviously, but nevertheless, unscrupulous media outlets have protrayed them.


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