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Guns in the home double homicide risk and triple suicide risk, study finds

The annual rate of suicide by firearms is higher in the U.S. than in any other country with reported data.

Gun ownership is more prevalent in the United States than in any other country: More than one-third of all U.S. households have firearms.
REUTERS/Joshua Lott

I’ve written here before about research that has shown that having a gun in your home significantly increases your risk of death — and that of your spouse and children.

Gun rights advocates have criticized such research, however, partly on the basis that it used population-level data, which can show only an association between the overall prevalence of gun ownership and homicide and suicide rates.

“That’s like noting,” wrote one critic, “that possessing a parachute is strongly associated with being injured while jumping from a plane, then concluding that skydivers would be better off unencumbered by safety equipment.”

So, a team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco decided to conduct a meta-analysis of recent gun-violence studies that looked only at individual-level data. In other words, they reviewed only those studies that had traced specific homicide or suicide victims to homes where guns were readily accessible.

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They identified 15 such studies that had been conducted between 1988 and 2005. All but two were done in the United States. Only one of the 15 studies did not find a significant increase in gun deaths among people with ready home access to a firearm. Interestingly, that study was conducted in New Zealand, which has very strict gun regulations.

Similar findings

Guns rights advocates won’t be any happier with these new findings, which were published earlier this week in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, than they were with the previous ones. For the meta-analysis found that people who have access to a firearm in their home are twice as likely to be killed and three times more likely to commit suicide than those who live in homes without guns.

The study also found some interesting gender differences. Men with home access to a firearm were almost four times more likely than women to commit suicide with a gun. Women who live in a home with ready access to a gun, on the other hand, were three times more likely to be the victim of a homicide.

The finding that women are much more likely than men to be shot and killed with a gun suggests, say the study’s authors, that domestic violence plays a primary role in those deaths.

Tragic statistics

As background information in the study points out, gun ownership is more prevalent in the United States than in any other country: More than one-third of all U.S. households have firearms.

Each year, an estimated 31,000 Americans die as a result of gunshot wounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2009, almost 52 percent of suicide deaths and almost 67 percent of homicide deaths in the U.S. were gun-related.

The annual rate of suicide by firearms is higher in the U.S. than in any other country with reported data (6.3 suicides for each 100,000 residents). In addition, we have the highest rate of firearm-related homicide among high-income countries (7.1 homicides for every 100,000 residents).

The study can be downloaded and read in full on the Annals of Internal Medicine website.