Biography of Dr. Gary Kleck, Criminologist

The Criminologist Whose Self-Defense Research Destroyed Gun Control Arguments

A black pistol on a table

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Gary Kleck (born March 2, 1951) was not a supporter of gun rights or gun owners’ causes, but came to be one of their biggest advocates through his work as a criminologist. When gun rights supporters make their case against gun control in term papers, op-ed newspaper columns, internet message board posts, and emails to friends and colleagues, they often include numbers to support their argument that is the result of studies conducted by Dr. Kleck.

Fast Facts: Gary Kleck

  • Known For: Gun violence statistician
  • Born: March 2, 1951 in Lombard Illinois
  • Parents: William and Joyce Kleck
  • Education: Bachelor of Arts (1973), Masters Degree (1975), Ph.D. (1979); all in Sociology from the University of Illinois in Urbana
  • Published Works: "Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America," "Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control," "The Great American Gun Debate: Essays on Firearms and Violence," and "Armed: New Perspectives on Gun Control"
  • Awards and Honors: 1993 Winner of the Michael J. Hindelang Award of the American Society of Criminology


Kleck has spent his entire career at Florida State University’s School of Criminology, beginning as an instructor and eventually becoming a professor at the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice in 1991. That same year, he authored his first book, "Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America."

He won the American Society of Criminology’s Michael J. Hindelang award in 1993 for the book. In 1997, he authored "Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control." The same year, he joined Don B. Kates to publish "The Great American Gun Debate: Essays on Firearms and Violence." In 2001, Kleck and Kates teamed up again for "Armed: New Perspectives on Gun Control."

Kleck’s first submission to a peer-reviewed journal on the subject of gun control was in 1979, when he penned an article on capital punishment, gun ownership, and homicide for the American Journal of Sociology. Since then, he has written more than 24 articles for various journals on guns and gun control. He has also published countless newspaper articles and position papers throughout of his career.

An Unlikely Source Supporting Gun Ownership

Ask the average gun owner which of America’s major political parties is most likely to support gun control and gun bans, and the overwhelming answer will be Democrats. Therefore, if someone unfamiliar with Kleck’s research reviewed only the titles of his work and compared them with his political ideology, they might expect him to support gun control.

In "Targeting Guns," Kleck revealed his membership in several liberal organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and Democrats 2000. He is registered as an active Democrat and has contributed financially to the campaigns of Democrat political candidates. He is not a member of the National Rifle Association or any other pro-gun organization. However, Kleck's studies on guns and their use in self-defense proved to be one of the most damaging arguments against gun control even as the movement peaked in American politics.

Kleck's Survey Findings

Kleck surveyed 2,000 households across the nation, then extrapolated the data to reach his findings. In the process, he managed to shatter previous survey claims. He found that guns are used far more often for self-defense than they are used to commit crimes.

  • For every use of a gun to commit a crime, there are three to four cases of guns used in self-defense.
  • Assault and robbery rates are lower when victims are armed with a gun.
  • A gun is used in self-defense to protect its owner from crime 2.5 million times per year, an average of once every 13 seconds.
  • 15% of gun defenders interviewed believed that someone would have died if they had not been armed. If true, that’s an average of one life saved due to firearm self-defense every 1.3 minutes.
  • In nearly 75% of cases, the victim did not know their attacker(s).
  • In nearly 50% of cases, victims faced at least two attackers, and in nearly 25%, there were three or more attackers.
  • 25% of incidents of self-defense occurred away from the home.

Kleck’s Legacy

Kleck’s National Self-Defense Survey findings provided strong arguments for concealed carry laws and keeping guns in the home for defensive purposes. It also provided a counterargument to surveys claiming that keeping firearms for self-defense was inadvisable because they posed dangers to gun owners and their families.​ Marvin Wolfgang, a noted criminologist who favored a ban on all firearms, even for law enforcement officers, said that Kleck's survey was nearly foolproof:

“What troubles me is the article by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz. The reason I am troubled is that they have provided an almost clear-cut case of methodologically sound research in support of something I have theoretically opposed for years, namely, the use of a gun in defense against a criminal perpetrator…I do not like their conclusions that having a gun can be useful, but I cannot fault their methodology.”
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Garrett, Ben. "Biography of Dr. Gary Kleck, Criminologist." ThoughtCo, Sep. 7, 2021, Garrett, Ben. (2021, September 7). Biography of Dr. Gary Kleck, Criminologist. Retrieved from Garrett, Ben. "Biography of Dr. Gary Kleck, Criminologist." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).