Who is Dr. Gary Kleck?

The Criminologist Whose Self-Defense Research Destroyed Gun Control Arguments

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When gun rights supporters make their case against gun control in term papers, op-ed newspaper columns, Internet message board postings, and emails to friends and colleagues, as often as not they’ll include numbers to support their argument that is the result of studies conducted by Dr. Gary Kleck. How did a man who was not a supporter of gun rights or gun owners’ causes come to be one of their biggest advocates?

Gary Kleck, Criminologist

Born in Lombard, Ill., in 1951, Kleck received his B.A. from the University of Illinois in 1973. By 1979, he had received his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Illinois in Urbana. He 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.

It was also in 1991 that Kleck authored his first book, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America. He would win 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 of sociology, criminology, and others on the subject of guns and gun control. He has also published countless newspaper articles and position papers over the course of his career.

An Argument For Gun Ownership From an Unlikely Source

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 a person who was unfamiliar with Kleck’s research reviewed only the titles of his books and articles and compared them with Kleck’s political ideology, they might expect him to be making the case for gun control.

In his 1997 book, Targeting Guns, Kleck revealed that he is a member of 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.

Yet Kleck’s 1993 study on guns and their use in self-defense proved to be one of the most damaging arguments against restricted gun rights as the gun control movement reached its peak 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 many previous survey claims and found that guns are used far more often for self-defense than they are used to commit crimes.

Among Kleck’s Findings:

  • For every use of a gun to commit a crime, there are three-to-four cases of guns being used in self-defense of a crime.
  • 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.
  • Fifteen percent of the gun defenders interviewed believed 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 the cases, the victim did not know his attackers. In nearly 50% of the cases, he faced at least two attackers and in nearly 25% of the cases, there were three or more attackers. A quarter of the incidents of self-defense occurred away from the home.

Results of Kleck’s Findings

Kleck’s National Self-Defense Survey findings provided a strong argument for concealed carry laws and keeping guns in the home for self-defense purposes. It also provided a counter argument to other surveys at the time which claimed that keeping guns for the purpose of self-defense was inadvisable due to their overall danger to the gun owner and his family members.​

Marvin Wolfgang, a noted criminologist who was on record favoring a ban on all firearms, even those carried by law enforcement officers, was quoted as saying that the Kleck survey was nearly foolproof, saying: “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.”