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Report: CDC pressured by gun control zealots to bury stats on guns used in self-defense, downplay firearms as possible crime deterrent

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Photo by Thilina Kaluthotage/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A study commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that guns were used defensively between 60,000 and 2.5 million times a year.

These statistics weren't just bad news for the countless aggressors who found themselves in the sights of law-abiding Americans but for the gun-control advocates keen to advance their agenda.

While those in the former camp are not liable to make much more trouble, a new report indicates that gun-control advocates successfully pressured the CDC to remove the defensive gun use stats.

What are the details?

A 2013 study commissioned by the CDC and resultant in part by an executive order issued by former President Barack Obama suggested that DGU incidents ranged in frequency from 60,000 to 2.5 million each year.

The report stated, "Estimates of gun use for self-defense vary widely, in part due to definitional differences for self-defensive gun use; different data sources; and questions about accuracy of data, particularly when self-reported. [The National Crime Victimization Survey] has estimated 60,000 to 120,000 defensive uses of guns per year."

The report also noted, "Another body of research estimated annual gun use for self-defense to be much higher, up to 2.5 million incidents, suggesting self-defense can be an important crime deterrent."

This second body of research relies upon the findings of Gary Kleck, professor emeritus at Florida State University’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Up until this year, this range was reflected on the CDC's gun facts page.

CNN analyst and Reload founder Stephen Gutowski obtained emails between the CDC and anti-gun activists through a Freedom of Information Act request, which revealed a pressure campaign to discount and discard Kleck's findings.

Mark Bryant, executive director of the Gun Violence Archive, wrote to the CDC in one email, "[T]hat 2.5 Million number needs to be killed, buried, dug up, killed again and buried again."

"It is highly misleading, is used out of context and I honestly believe it has zero value — even as an outlier point in honest DGU discussions," added Bryant.

The Reload reported that Bryant appeared convinced Kleck's estimate was detrimental to the anti-gun agenda and to activists' ability to pass new gun restrictions.

"And while that very small study by Gary Kleck has been debunked repeatedly by everyone from all sides of this issue [even Kleck] it still remains canon by gun rights folks and their supporting politicians and is used as a blunt instrument against gun safety regulations every time there is a state or federal level hearing," wrote Bryant.

The gun-control activist added, "Put simply, in the time that study has been published as 'a CDC Study' gun violence prevention policy has ground to a halt, in no small part because of the misinformation that small study provided."

The CDC initially stood by the 2013 DGU range, as reflected in this archived version of its "Firearm Violence Prevention" page.

Earlier this year, the page stated, "Estimates of defensive gun use vary depending on the questions asked, populations studied, timeframe, and other factors related to the design of studies. The report Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence indicates a range of 60,000 to 2.5 million defensive gun uses each year."

In one email, Dr. Debra Houry, acting principal deputy director of the CDC, argued that Bryant's anti-gun group had inspected only "a very small subset of people who have used guns defensively," and that their DGU figure, at odds with Kleck's, "does not include individuals who might have used guns defensively, but not reported this use to law enforcement."

Despite the anti-gun group's dubious claims, the CDC ultimately buckled under the pressure.

Following a virtual meeting with Bryant in September 2021, Beth Reimels, associate director for policy, partnerships, and strategic communication at the CDC’s division of violence prevention, wrote in an email, "We are planning to update the fact sheet in early 2022 after the release of some new data."

Reimels indicated that the corresponding edits would "address the concerns [Bryant] and other partners have raised."

The 60,000 to 2.5 million range was deleted.

Instead, the page now says, "Estimates of defensive gun use vary depending on the questions asked, populations studied, timeframe, and other factors related to study design. Given the wide variability in estimates, additional research is necessary to understand defensive gun use prevalence, frequency, circumstances, and outcomes."

Jennifer Mascia, a reporter with the Trace, pointed out that the CDC had changed its gun violence facts page in early May.

Kleck told the Reload, the "CDC is just aligning itself with the gun-control advocacy groups. ... It’s just saying: 'we are their tool, and we will do their bidding.' And that’s not what a government agency should do."

The Rand Corporation suggested in 2018 that while Kleck's 2.5 million figure may be an overestimate, since his survey presumed more of the population packed heat than would be the case nationally, the "NCVS estimate of 116,000 DGU incidents per year almost certainly underestimates the true number."

That would still put the number of DGUs well over the number comfortably bandied about by Second Amendment critics.

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