Guns, Women, and the Medical Literature

[Ed: This was originally published October 1, 1994 on Hacienda Publishing. Dr. Faria discusses the breakthrough take-down of Arthur Kellerman’s “seminal research.” [sic] It is still relevant 25 years later as we face even more pseudo-scientific assaults on reason. Women training for self-protection is thankfully becoming widespread. Edited for DRGO in form and length .]

It is becoming abundantly clear that the mainstream liberal media and the entrenched medical establishment support draconian gun control measures that would ultimately lead to the confiscation and banning of firearms. Driven by liberal medical journal editors, vociferous administration officials, and taxpayer subsidized, gun control-oriented research, the political establishment has propounded the Public Health/Epidemiologic model to confront the conveniently media-tagged issue of guns and violence.(1)

This is, in reality, a campaign orchestrated by gun prohibitionists and proponents of big government who are willing to exploit our understandable concerns about street violence and sensationalized crime statistics to advance their agenda for an ever-increasing government power via the emasculation of constitutional government, that in the final analysis can only come about through total citizen disarmament.

The monolithic wall of the entrenched political medical establishment was breached with the January 1994 issue of the Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia. In that issue preeminent criminologist, Professor Gary Kleck of Florida State University, author of the influential book, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America (1991), analyzed work by Arthur Kellermann, MD and associates at the Center for Injury Control at Emory University. Their study purported to find that 76% of people killed at home were shot by a family member or an acquaintance. They concluded that persons who keep guns in their home are themselves more likely to be victims of homicide than those who don’t. In the words of the authors, “Rather than confer protection, guns kept in the home are associated with an increase in the risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance.”(2)

Methodology Flaws

Kleck discloses serious flaws in the methodology. First, “violent households” would be expected “to be more likely to own guns than people in less violent households, even if guns themselves made no contribution at all to the violence.” Second, “because their study did nothing to distinguish cause from effect . . .” we know nothing about the “risk-increasing or risk-decreasing, of keeping guns for self-protection.” In other words, we do not know what portion of gun uses were for self-protection and which ones were criminal.

For example, 63% of the “victims” were men; yet we do not know how many of these homicides represent acts of self-defense by women against abusive partners, and so were justifiable homicides. In fact, according to the authors, “a majority of the homicides (50.9%) occurred in the context of a quarrel or a romantic triangle.”(1) It should be pointed out that other investigators have concluded that “about half of shootings by one spouse or the other are defensive killings of husbands by victimized wives. So it misleadingly characterizes many cases in which guns save innocent lives as gun murders.”(3)

Moreover, only gun uses that resulted in death were analyzed, thus the study excluded the vast majority of gun uses that do not result in death, and which are more likely to be defensive uses by victims of crime, to protect themselves.(2-4) In fact, Kleck points out that “at least ¾ of all uses of guns in crime-related incidents are defensive uses by the crime victims.”(3)

Kellermann et al adopted faulty post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning (“after it therefore because of it”), which blames the rise of crime and violence in America on guns. As a neurosurgeon who has spent incalculable hours in the middle of the night treating victims of gunshot wounds, I also deplore the rising violence and crime in America—but we must have the moral courage to seek the truth in another side of the story that is seldom reported.

Physicians have the professional obligation to base our opinions on objective data and scientific information rather than on emotionalism or political agendas. That issue of JMAG, entirely devoted to the topic of guns and violence, concluded that accumulated objective data shows that indiscriminate gun control disarms law-abiding citizens while not preventing criminals from perpetrating crimes. Guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens deter crime and enable self-protection.(6)

FBI statistics reveal that 75 percent of violent crimes for any locality are committed by six percent of hardened criminals and repeat offenders. The typical murderer has at least a 6 year prior criminal history with four felony arrests when he first commits murder. This compares with the fact that less than 2% of crimes committed with firearms are carried out by licensed law-abiding citizens. The vast majority of criminals obtain their guns illegally which is not difficult since there are already over 200 million guns in circulation in the U.S.(5,6)

A ban on gun ownership would not only be unconstitutional but also impossible to execute. Americans know that they have a right to self-protection, and understand that the right embodied in the Second Amendment is the right that secures all others. There are approximately 500,000 police officers in the United States.(7) Assuming three 8-hour shifts every day and other circumstances (vacations, leaves, etc.), there can only be 125,000 police on duty at any time to protect a population of 250 million.

The duty of the police officers is not to prevent crime (they cannot), but to apprehend criminals and bring them to justice after a crime has been committed. They cannot be in all places at all times. And contrary to popular belief, the police have no legal duty to protect the public against criminals. According to several court opinions including a1982 ruling (Bowers vs De Vito), “there is no constitutional right to be protected by the state against being murdered by criminals or madmen. The constitution . . . does not require the federal government or the state to provide services, even so elementary a service as maintaining law and order.”(8)

In the final analysis, the state has no responsibility to protect citizens from crime. At best, the state assumes only a collective duty to the community. This is one reason that law-abiding American citizens must preserve their constitutional right “to keep and bear arms,” and must assume responsibility to protect themselves from violent criminals, as the 1992 Los Angeles riots so well demonstrated.

Kleck has noted that “citizens acting in self-defense kill about three times more assailants and robbers than do the police.” In his book, he gathers statistics evidencing that defensive uses of handguns by citizens surpass their criminal uses because so many Americans own guns for self-protection. Firearms are used more frequently by law-abiding citizens to repel crime than by criminals to perpetrate crime.(2,5)

Criminologist Don B. Kates, Jr. and medical editor Patricia T. Harris maintain that “. . . by focusing on homes the statistics exclude the numerous instances in which shopkeepers kill robbers. When the number of abused wives and shopkeepers who shoot criminals is accounted, the figure for defensive killing increases by about 1,000 percent”(4) Furthermore, “firearms (including handguns) are used another 215,000 times each year by citizens to defend themselves against dangerous animals (i.e. snakes, rabid skunks, etc.).”(4,7)

Likewise, “assault weapons” have been used by private citizens to protect themselves and their property during crises, as Korean shopkeepers amply demonstrated protecting their property during the L.A. riots and Florida residents demonstrated during the looting rampages that followed in the wake of devastating hurricane Andrew.

It is not surprising that in a survey of 1,800 prison inmates, 81 % would to know if potential victims were armed, 74% said they avoid houses when people are home because they fear being shot, and 34% have actually  been scared off, shot at, wounded, or even captured by armed citizens.(9-10)

Further data gathered by Kleck (1993) reveals that the “life-saving uses of guns annually . . . would dwarf the nearly 37,000 lives taken with guns.”(3) As Edgar Suter, M.D., chair of Doctors for Integrity in Research and Public Policy, points out in his review of the literature, “as many as 75 lives are potentially saved for every life lost to a gun.” Clearly, the beneficial uses of guns have not been properly portrayed in the medical literature or the popular press.(11)

Women and Guns

National Victims Data suggests that “while victims resisting with knives, clubs, or bare hands are about twice as likely to be injured as those who submit, victims who resist with a gun are only half as likely to be injured as those who put up no defense.”(5) Similarly, regarding women and self-defense, “among those victims using handguns in self-defense, 66% of them were successful in warding off the attack and keeping their property. Among victims using weapons other than firearms, only 40% were successful.

Only 35% of victims fled the scene successfully. Only 22% of victims invoking physical force succeeded. Only 20% of those using only shouting were successful. (5) The gun is the great equalizer for women on the street or defending themselves and their children at home.

In the U.S., women will continue being opportune targets of crime. According to a survey by William Barnhill of The Washington Post, “73% of all women now over the age of 12 will be victimized, more than a third of them raped, robbed, or assaulted at some point in their lives.”

But women are beginning to fight back. In the U.S., at least 12 million women now own handguns. According to Tracey Martin, former manager of the National Rifle Association’s Education and Training Division, “a gun can make the difference between being the victim or the victor in a confrontation with a criminal.” Paxton Quigley, who once advocated gun control but now recommends that women learn handgun defense, states “guns in the hands of women who know how to use them do deter crime.”(12) Robert J. Kukla wrote in his book Gun Control, “today . . . a dainty and delicate woman, with courage and determination, is more than the equal of any brute who ever trampled the sand of a Roman arena. The difference is the firearm.” (13)

Firearm safety training is essential for citizens, including women who intend to use firearms for self-protection. And it does reduce crime. Robert W. Lee recounts that a few years back “in the wake of a rampage of robberies and rapes, more than 2,500 women were trained to use firearms in Orlando, Florida. Within nine months, robberies and attacks plummeted 90%; rapes, 25%; and aggravated assaults and burglaries, 24%.”(8,13) When woman are armed with guns, she will be successful at preventing rape 97% of the time, and only half as likely to be injured in the process.(14) And what is more, women are easier to train than men—a notion that few readers of Women Guns magazine would quarrel with!

As regards the much feared “crimes of passion” that take place impulsively in the heat of domestic conflict, criminologists point out that homicides in this setting are the culmination of a long simmering cycle of violence. A study of police records in Detroit and Kansas City revealed that “in 90% of domestic homicides, the police had responded at least once before during the prior two years to a disturbance,” and in over 50% of cases, the police had been called five times or more.”(15) Surely, these are not uniquely impulsive crimes of passion, but the result of violence in dysfunctional families, often with alcohol or drug abuse. These may be abusive partners who, after a long history of spousal abuse finally commit murder. We can hope to see women increasingly defending themselves against abusive partners.

Yes, domestic shootings sometimes are acts of self-defense by women. In his critique of Kellermann et al, Dr. Suter writes:

“No effort was made by the authors to assess the protective uses of guns by women. In fact, the authors attempted to portray legitimate self-defense as “murder.” Women are abused 2 million to 4 million times per year. Their children are similarly abused, even fatally. Almost all the “spouses and domestic partners” killed by women each year are the very same men, well known to the police, often with substance abuse histories, who have been brutalizing their wives, girlfriends, and children”(11) and who could well end up killing these women. [emphases added]

Dr. Suter further points out that 20% of homicides are justifiable due to self-defense. FBI data, because it is based on “preliminary determination rather than final determination,” dramatically under reports justifiable homicides. He comments, “the FBI’s definition of ‘acquaintance’ includes the maniac in one’s apartment building and dueling drug dealers.”(11)

It should be noted that handguns, ordinary shotguns, and hunting rifles, not the so-called paramilitary or falsely termed “assault weapons,” are the firearms most frequently used in domestic violence and street crimes. So-called “assault weapons” are used in less than 1% of gun crimes.(13) Edward Ezell, Curator of the Smithsonian Institute and National Firearm Collection, testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1989 that the “12-gauge shotguns and the .38-caliber revolvers continue to be the primary firearms used in crimes and shootings.”(7) If draconian gun control measures are instituted, law-abiding citizens can be certain to feel the impact—they will be the ones with the most to lose.

The Founding Fathers held that man’s constitutional rights were natural, God-given and inalienable. The role of the government was to be the guarantor of those rights, though it was ultimately on the people themselves to keep them. Informed citizenry were to be the ultimate enforcers, and the Second Amendment itself was to be the vehicle by which this right was to safeguard and secure all others. As if to underscore this fact, the same Congress that passed the Bill of Rights (with the Second Amendment) also passed the Militia Act of 1790 which defined the militia as “every able-bodied man at least 17 years of age . . . and under 45 years of age.”

In the 1990 U.S. v. Verdugo decision, the Supreme Court held that when the phrase, ”the people” is used in the context of the Second Amendment, it means “individuals” –as in, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Like it or not, to assert that the phrase “the people” implies a collective right which, when coupled with the locution “well regulated militia” restricted the meaning of the Second Amendment to a state “militia” of citizen-soldiers, as in the National Guard, is preposterous. If that were the case, the Second Amendment would be the only one in the Bill of Rights that does not support individual liberties as a bulwark against government power.

Gun control activists want to implement draconian gun control measures, step by step, until they reach their true and ultimate goal: prohibition and confiscation of guns held by law-abiding citizens. Finally, it should be noted that in U.S. v. Miller (1939), the U.S. explicitly protected an individual’s right “to keep and bear arms” especially and explicitly the ownership of military-style weapons or so-called “assault weapons,” as “part of the ordinary military equipment.”

Towards a Solution

An effective approach to diminishing murder and violent crime should never involve infringing on law-abiding citizens’ right “to keep and bear arms.” Serious attempts to decrease violence committed with firearms should involve keeping guns away from minors (to prevent accidental shootings) and, most importantly, from convicted felons and criminals who have forfeited their right to possess guns.

There are over 20,000 federal and state gun laws on the books. They need to be enforced, yet they are not. More laws are not the answer. In states where waiting periods have been instituted, there has been no noticeable decrease in gun use by criminals or decreases in violent crime rates. There have been too many victims waiting to obtain defensive firearms who have been killed by attackers who were threatening them.

The Public Health/epidemiologic anti-gun model appears to be intended to deflect accountability from individual transgressors. These models heap blame on society by default, or on inanimate objects such as guns and bullets by implication. The criminal becomes “the victim,” of circumstances. It is in this atmosphere that draconian gun control measures—that restrict the law-abiding but do nothing against lawbreakers—have been instituted in Washington, DC, New York, Chicago and Maryland, to no avail.

A tougher criminal justice system without revolving prison doors, a larger dose of individual responsibility and accountability, and more gun safety education courses are needed. Societal decay, moral disintegration and failure of America’s criminal justice system—not inanimate guns and bullets—are the real culprits behind killings in America.

We must not permit draconian gun control measures that disarm law-abiding citizens and leave them at the mercy of criminals who will continue to have guns. Serving political correctness and joining the bandwagon of political expediency are neither the answer nor are they worthy of American citizens, let alone physicians.


1. Adler KP et al. Firearm violence and public health — limiting the availability of guns. JAMA 1994;271 (16):1281-1283.
2. Kellermann A, et al. Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home. N Engl J Med 1993;329(15):1084-1091.
3. Kleck G. Guns and self-protection. J Med Assoc Ga 1994;83(1):42.
4. Kates DB Jr. and Harris PT. How to make their day. National Review 1991 ;43(19):30-32.
5. Kleck G. Point Blank — guns and violence in America. Walter de Gruyter, Publisher, 1991. For the 6% of criminals, see the Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice. Uniform crime reports: crime in the United States 1992. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office 1993. For the prior felony arrests, see Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice. Guns and crime. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office. April 1994; NCJ-147003.
6. Faria MA, Jr. On guns and violence. J Med Assoc Ga 1993;82(7):317-320.
7. Gottlieb AM. Gun rights fact book. 1988. See also Lee RW. Going for our guns. The New American 1990;6(9):21-28.
8. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Bowers vs DeVito. Cited by Robert W. Lee in Police protection or self-defense? The New American 1992;8(8):16-17. See also Court of Appeals ruling, Riss vs City of New York (1968), and the Superior Court ruling, Warren vs District of Columbia (1981) in reference #13.
9. Wright JD and Rossi P. Armed and Considered Dangerous. Transition Publishers. New Brunswick, New Jersey, 2nd edition. 2008.
10. Blackman PH. The armed criminal in America. Cited by Don Feder in Gun control doesn’t work. New Dimensions 1991 ;5(4):44- 45. Kleck G. Targeting Guns. Firearms and their control. Aldine de Gruyter. New York, 1997.
11. Suter E. Guns in the medical literature — a failure of peer review. J Med Assoc Ga 1994;83(3)133-148.
12. Quigley P. Armed and Female. Cited by Robert W. Lee in Gun report — ladies in waiting. The New American 1992;8(7).
13. Lee RW. The right that secures all others. The New American 1992;8(19):20.
14. Pratt L. Health care and firearms. J Med Assoc Ga 1994;83(3): 149-151.
15. Kates DB. Cited by Robert W. Lee. Going for our guns. The New American 1990;6(9):21-28.




—  Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D. is a retired professor of Neurosurgery and  Medical History at Mercer University School of Medicine. He founded Hacienda Publishing and is Associate Editor in Chief and World Affairs Editor of Surgical Neurology International. He served on the CDC’s Injury Research Grant Review Committee.

All DRGO articles by Miguel A. Faria, Jr., MD