Guns kept in the home are more likely to be involved in a fatal or nonfatal unintentional shooting, criminal assault or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense.1 That is, a gun is more likely to be used to kill or injure an innocent person in the home than a threatening intruder.
Though guns may be successfully used in self-defense even when they are not fired, the evidence shows that their presence in the home makes a person more vulnerable, not less. Instead of keeping owners safer from harm, objective studies confirm that firearms in the home place owners and their families at greater risk. Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that living in a home where guns are kept increased an individual’s risk of death by homicide by between 40 and 170%.2 Another study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology similarly found that “persons with guns in the home were at greater risk of dying from a homicide in the home than those without guns in the home.” This study determined that the presence of guns in the home increased an individual’s risk of death by homicide by 90%.3
Claims that guns are used defensively millions times every year have been widely discredited. Using a gun in self-defense is no more likely to reduce the chance of being injured during a crime than various other forms of protective action.4 At least one study has found that carrying a firearm significantly increases a person’s risk of being shot in an assault; research published in the American Journal of Public Health reported that, even after adjusting for confounding factors, individuals who were in possession of a gun were about 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession.5
The gun lobby has often cited to a thoroughly debunked statistic that guns are used defensively 2.5 million times per year in the United States. That discredited estimate came from a 1995 study that suffered from several fatal methodological flaws, including its reliance on only 66 responses in a telephone survey of 5,000 people, multiplied out to purportedly represent over 200 million American adults.6 The authors of that discredited study themselves stated that in up to 64% of their reported defensive gun use cases, the guns were carried or used illegally, including cases where the victim was actually the aggressor.7
A study published in 2013 by the Violence Policy Center, using five years of nationwide statistics (2007-2011) compiled by the federal Bureau of Justice found that defensive gun use occurs at a dramatically lower rate, about 98.5% lower than the gun lobby has claimed.8 The V.P.C. also found that for every one justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 44 criminal homicides.9 This ratio does not take into account the tens of thousands of lives lost in gun suicides or accidental shootings every year.
Another study reviewing surveys of gun use in the U.S. determined that a majority of self-reported defensive gun uses may also have been illegal and against the interests of society.10
- Arthur L. Kellerman et al., Injuries and Deaths Due to Firearms in the Home, 45 J. Trauma 263, 263, 266 (1998). ⤴
- Garen J. Wintemute, Guns, Fear, the Constitution, and the Public’s Health, 358 New England J. Med. 1421-1424 (Apr. 2008). ⤴
- Linda L. Dahlberg et al., Guns in the Home and Risk of a Violent Death in the Home: Findings from a National Study, 160 Am. J. Epidemiology 929, 935 (2004). ⤴
- David Hemenway, Private Guns, Public Health 78 (2004). ⤴
- Charles C. Branas, et al, Investigating the Link Between Gun Possession and Gun Assault, 99 Am. J. Pub. Health 2034 (Nov. 2009), at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2759797/pdf/2034.pdf. ⤴
- See David Hemenway, Policy and Perspective: Survey Research and Self-Defense Gun Use: An Explanation of Extreme Overestimates, 87 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 1430, 1432 (1997). ⤴
- Gary KIeck & Marc Gertz, Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun, 86 J. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 150, 174 (1995). ⤴
- Marty Langley & Josh Sugarmann, Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use: An Analysis of Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Crime Victimization Survey Data, Violence Policy Center 1, 9 (Apr. 2013), at http://www.vpc.org/studies/justifiable.pdf. ⤴
- Marty Langley & Josh Sugarmann, Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use: An Analysis of Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Crime Victimization Survey Data, Violence Policy Center 1, 2 (Apr. 2013), at http://www.vpc.org/studies/justifiable.pdf. See also, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Crime in the United States, 2009, Expanded Homicide Data Table 15, at http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/offenses/expanded_information/data/shrtable_15.html (last visited Oct. 10, 2010)(reporting that of the 13,636 Americans who were murdered in 2009, only 215 involved justifiable homicide by firearms and only 165 involved justifiable homicide by handguns). ⤴
- David Hemenway, Deborah Azrael & Matthew Miller, Gun Use in the United States: Results from Two National Surveys, 6 Inj. Prevention 263, 263 (2000). ⤴