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Debunking the “8% Forgot to Take Off the Safety” in Bear Attacks Myth

Saturday, October 15, 2016 22:01
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If you have been reading about defensive uses of firearms against bears, you have likely read that bear spray is more effective than firearms, and that a large percentage of people faced with bear attacks failed to disengage the safety.  Both are based on a highly flawed study.

In a discussion at The Truth About Guns, a commenter, writing about the subject thought that a high percentage, maybe 20%, of defenders, failed to take off the safety.  The commenter did some research, found the study by Tom Smith and Stephen Herroro and others, and corrected the number to “8 percent of people who faced a bear failed to disengage the safety”.

I read the paper.  It is easy to misunderstand the numbers.  The number of people who failed to disengage the safety are much, much smaller, less than 2 percent.  The total number of firearm users in the study were 215.  That means four people out of 215 failed to disengage the safety on the firearm that they had.  About the same number (5) missed the bear.

The reason for the misunderstanding is clear, if you read the study carefully.  The eight percent is the percentage of the people with guns who failed to stop the bear or bears, not the percentage of people who tried to stop the bear or bears.

The overall percentage of people who successfully stopped the bear with a gun was a bit over 76 percent.  When only handguns were considered, the percentage was just short of 84%!  That is correct.  The study found handguns to be more effective than long guns.

If you are starting to wonder what is going on in this study, you are not alone.

The study has numerous flaws, the most glaring being that incidents where injuries to humans occurred were highly oversampled.  There was a strong selection bias toward incidents where firearms failed.  From the study:

Finally, additional records would have likely improved firearm success rates from those reported here, but to what extent is unknown.

This study is widely reported in the media to claim that firearms are not as effective as bear spray for protection against bear attack. 

The study is mildly interesting.  It is not persuasive science.  I am not going to go into all the flaws in this study.  It has been done.  One of the things that stands out is that a previous study, Human Injuries from Bears in Alaska, shows completely different results.

That study examined over a thousand Defense of Life and Property reports in Alaska from 1986 to 1996.  Only 2 percent of these incidents resulted in any injury to the people involved. That study was not mentioned in the bear attack study done by Tom Smith and Stephen Herrero.

Then next time you read “8% forgot to take off the safety”, realize that it is a misunderstanding of the numbers. 
©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.

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