The health risk of a gun in the home outweighs the benefit

Does a gun in the home make you safer? Researchers from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, the University of California and elsewhere have all concluded: No, guns do not make us safer.

Yet the myth that guns make us safer persists. We see the myth constantly in movies and on television. We hear over and over again from the gun lobby the myth of “the good guy with a gun.”

And now Waterville, Maine Police Chief Joe Massey has said, following an assault there on a 73-year-old woman, that citizens should arm themselves as a defense against crime.

In a study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, Harvard professor David Hemenway concludes, “Scientific studies suggest that the health risk of a gun in the home is greater than the benefit. There are no credible studies that indicate otherwise. There is no good evidence of a deterrent effect of firearms or that a gun in the home reduces the likelihood or severity of injury during an altercation or break-in. The evidence indicates that the costs of having a gun in the home will widely outweigh the benefits.”

A 2013 Pew Research survey found that 48 percent of gun owners say the main reason they own a gun is for protection. Just a decade earlier, 49 percent had said they owned a gun mostly for hunting. And while, from an emotional standpoint, having a gun might make you feel safer, studies have determined that a gun in the home doubles the risk of homicide and triples the risk of suicide.

Evidence finds that greater availability of guns increases a woman’s risk of being murdered by a family member or another person she knows. According to data analysis, states with higher rates of gun ownership have higher homicide rates.

Rates of aggravated assault have been shown to actually increase in states that allow more people to carry concealed guns in public. Researchers have found that higher levels of gun ownership in an area lead to more burglary because guns are desirable loot.

Guns are used more often to threaten and intimidate than in self-defense. Most purported self-defense gun uses are with guns that were drawn during an escalating argument. And when five criminal court judges were asked to assess national survey results of self-reported defensive gun uses, the majority of judges rated most of these uses as probably illegal.

There is strong consensus among researchers who have published on firearms in a peer-reviewed scientific journal that guns are used in crime far more often than they are used in self-defense.

The reality is that gun owners are far more likely to be involved in an unintentional shooting or find their weapons harming a family member than to be heroes who stop a criminal.

A household without a gun is not one incapable of defending itself. Research has found that other weapons (baseball bats, clubs, knives) are used far more often than guns for protection. It would have been much more prudent if Massey, the Waterville police chief, had advised citizens to get a dog for protection.

The Portland, Maine Press Herald ran a story about Massey’s recommendation on its front page Feb. 12. Also on Page 1 was coverage of the sentencing of a 77-year-old Biddeford man who pleaded guilty to shooting and killing two teenagers in 2012 “after an argument over snow removal.”

Other stories in the paper that same day included one about a Bath man who has been charged with manslaughter after he unintentionally shot and killed his girlfriend while showing a handgun to a potential buyer, and the trial of a man charged with shooting his wife during a home invasion in Saco.

The Washington Post has reported that last year in this country, roughly once a week, a child 3 years old or younger found a gun and shot themselves or someone else. One-third of those incidents resulted in death.

Every year, over 30,000 people in the United States are killed with guns. Eighty thousand more are shot and injured, leaving scars, both physical and emotional, that can take a lifetime to heal.

The combined number of gun deaths and gun injuries in America has increased by 25 percent over the last 15 years. It is time we realize what the majority of researchers already know: Guns don’t make us safer.


Cathie Whittenburg