Guns Kill Loved Ones but Offer Little Self-Defense
New research puts to bed the myth that gun ownership makes for a safer home — in fact, it seems firearms only endanger loved ones’ lives
Of the 30% of Americans who own guns, roughly two-thirds say it’s for self-protection. However, they might want to reconsider: New research is challenging the notion that gun ownership makes for a safer home. In fact, for the first time, scientific research shows that guns actually increase the risk of homicide among intimate partners and family members — but notably not strangers. And in states with lax gun laws, children are especially at risk.
One new study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, compares firearm ownership levels and homicide rates in all 50 states, from 1990 through 2016, looking also at the victim’s relationship to the offender. It finds that for every increase in gun ownership at 10% increments, domestic firearm homicide — specifically involving an intimate partner or other family member — goes up 13%, while non-domestic firearm homicide goes up just 2%. In roughly half of all homicides reviewed, the victim was a friend or acquaintance of the offender.
“While personal protection is a commonly cited reason for owning a gun, our research shows that firearm ownership also confers significant risks to loved ones, as they are more likely to be killed if there is a gun in the household,” says Aaron Kivisto, the lead author on the study and an associate professor at the University of Indianapolis.
Kivisto and his colleagues looked at all causes of homicide, finding that when guns aren’t present, people rarely turn to other weapons to kill someone in domestic situations.
“Where there are more guns, there are more domestic homicides, and this is driven by firearms,” Kivisto writes in an email exchange. “We don’t see low gun-owning states having higher rates of non-firearm domestic homicides.” The analysis is “the first to show who precisely bears the burden of increased rates of firearm ownership,” he says. “The…