Research Finds That Guns Do Indeed Kill People

Evidence shows that the presence of firearms significantly increases the chance of accidental killings, non-stranger homicides, and suicide.

Photo Courtesey of Gideon Tsang, via Flickr

The National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun advocates have argued for years that access to firearms is the only thing keeping our world from going insane, that good citizens need guns in order to defend themselves and their families from the bleak and hopeless state of modern society. Wayne LaPierre of the NRA issued an intense, literal call to arms last year, saying:

We know, in the world that surrounds us, there are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and car-jackers and knock-out gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping-mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all.

Slate recently published an article, which sought to debunk the “good man with a gun” myth and cited a wide range of studies that overwhelming showed on all fronts: the costs of firearms greatly outweigh the hypothetical benefits of gun ownership.

Firearms and Homicide

The most recent study examining the relationship between firearms and homicide rates on a state level, published last April in the journal Injury Prevention, found a significant positive relationship between gun ownership and overall homicide levels. The study found that for every 1 percent increase in gun ownership, there was a 1.1 percent increase in the firearm homicide rate and a 0.7 percent increase in the total homicide rate, looking at data from 1980-2010. And to hush naysayers who believe there are lurking variables that could influence the numbers, the study controlled for factors such as poverty, unemployment, income inequality, alcohol consumption, and non-homicide violent crime. Moreover, the firearm ownership rate had no statistically significant impact on non-firearm homicides, meaning that in the absence of guns, prospective criminals are not using knives or other weapons to kill people. These results are supported by a host of previous studies that illustrate that guns increase the rate of homicides.

Slate’s article also shot down the common argument that gun control laws will be ineffective because criminals won’t follow them. A study from May of 2013 looked at the impact of state firearm laws on firearm-related fatalities and found that the most gun-restrictive states have significantly fewer firearm fatalities than the states with the least restrictive laws. The results are in line with previous academic studies looking at the effects of conceal carry laws.

Firearms and Accidental Deaths and Suicide

Every year, there are several heartbreaking stories of firearms related accidents. A husband late at night shooting an intruder who turned out to be his pregnant wife. A girl killed for knocking on the door late at night asking for help with her broken down car. A two year old who accidentally shot and killed his mother when he found her handgun in her purse.

A recent meta-analysis revealed that easy access to firearms doubled the risk of homicide and tripled the risk for suicide among all household members

Firearms and Arguments

In January 2014, an Oakland boy made national headlines when he allegedly shot and killed his 17 year-old sister, who was mother to a 2-year old daughter, over an argument regarding laundry. A national survey that found that a gun in the home was far more likely to be used to threaten a family member or intimate partner than to be used in self-defense. Furthermore, FBI data showed that about twice as many homicides result from arguments than from felonies, and gang violence is only a small contributor, i.e. that if you have a gun, you’re more likely to be killed at the hands of someone you know over an argument than by an unknown criminal or from gang activity. This news is especially dangerous for children and women, because family violence is much more likely to be lethal in homes where a firearm is present.

In conclusion, one study found, for every time a gun is used legally in self-defense at home, there are “four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.” With this smoking gun, it’s time to reconsider the price paid for the “freedom” to own and use guns.

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