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

REUTERS/Joshua Lott
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.

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.

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.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 01/22/2014 - 11:34 am.

    Thank you

    for this excellent source of information, which the gun lobby works tirelessly to obfuscate.

    Pretty conclusive evidence as to the risk of firearms in the home from this analysis. More sensible gun laws are clearly needed in the US.

    • Submitted by tim luchsinger on 01/22/2014 - 07:28 pm.

      gun laws

      Why would new gun laws change things? Maybe we need more mental health laws to protect the people that would hurt them self. I’m sure that if some one wanted to kill them self they could find ways to do that. It happens every day.

  2. Submitted by Greg Price on 01/22/2014 - 12:15 pm.

    Gun ownership

    It makes ever so much sense to listen to the Annals of Internal medicine about gun ownership…ask your mechanic about your two yr old’s sniffles, your kid’s teacher about your income tax deductions, and your accountant about landscaping your yard.

    None of those individuals are experts in the field that they were questioned on…how much skin does the Annal of Internal Medicine have in the game?

    Seems like a personal preference issue to me…

    my $.02

    • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 01/22/2014 - 01:39 pm.

      Begging the reader’s indulgence…

      The primary author of the paper in question is Andrew Anglemeyer, a PhD who also has a Master’s degree in Public Health. He is at the University of San Francisco, one of the best medical centers in the world.

      He is an epidemiologist who is eminently qualified to do the work which involved the study of fourteen earlier studies on the topic between 1988 and 2005. In all but one case – New Zealand which has stricter gun regulations – it was found that the risk of suicide/homicide was found to be significantly higher in homes with ready gun access than in homes where guns were not available.

      For further comments, please see the Reuter’s article:

      Gun ownership tied to three-fold increase in suicide risk

      link: http://ow.ly/sQwJU

      Here other experts comment, including:

      “Smith is a fellow in the Division of Traumatology and Cheney is executive director of the Firearm and Injury Center at Penn.”

      “Hemenway is an expert on injury prevention at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.”

      If you want to argue about facts or the studies, fine. But don’t make ill-informed comments about the qualifications of the authors before looking into them.

      Thank you.

      Bill Gleason
      University of Minnesota Medical School

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/22/2014 - 12:24 pm.

    By all means

    Anyone who thinks any of their family members can’t be trusted with firearms should not own any and should not allow firearms in their home.

    The shooter who committed the crimes at Sandy Hook was mentally ill, yet his mother, a gun collector, was negligent in safeguarding them from her son. He used his mother’s guns to kill her first and then the others. If she had lived, she would have been charged with a crime.

  4. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 01/22/2014 - 12:29 pm.

    How the gun lobby and friends roll…

    I took advantage of the share button above to tweet this post and earn MinnPost a buck.

    The resulting instant response on twitter by a gun fan was telling:

    TCguns_carry 11:38am via Web
    @MN_RKBA Always good for a laff when LWNJs cite “gun studies” posted in “media” like @MinnPost funded by anti-gun groups. #stribpol To laff

    Of course the person who posted this obviously did not take the time to look at the source for this article: The Annals of Internal Medicine. Or he did, and ignored it.

    This pretty much illustrates the approach of the gun lobby to bringing facts about the consequences of free and easy access to guns in the home.

    Very sad. Even a majority of NRA members favor more effective gun legislation to decrease the horrible death toll resulting from poor gun regulation in this country.


  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/22/2014 - 02:36 pm.

    I look forward…

    First, to Mr. Tester producing some sort of evidence that Adam Lanza’s mother somehow “deserved” to be murdered if she thought her son was someone not to be trusted around firearms.

    Second, to listening to Mr. Tester, or the guy who responded in garbled form to Bill Gleason’s “share” of this post, when they interview the parents of any of the numerous children shot to death every year by “stray” or random bullets, or by a sibling or playmate who finds a handgun in a bedside drawer, or – like those at Sandy Hook – by complete strangers. Trustworthiness of family members would seem not to be the determining factor in those cases, but it would be interesting to see how the parents of murdered children respond to the usual “pro-gun” assertion that access to firearms is somehow not related to their child’s murder.

    The NRA’s leadership is myopically, hysterically wrong about the issues surrounding access to firearms.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 01/22/2014 - 04:36 pm.

      Blue Moons

      While I’m not typically one to jump to Dennis’ defense, I did not read his statement as saying that Mrs. Lanza ‘deserved’ to be murdered. I mean, I disagree with the thrust of the whole argument, but I really did not read that as such.

  6. Submitted by John Peschken on 01/22/2014 - 05:22 pm.

    Not enough information

    I would like to see is the rate of suicide and intrafamily gun violence in homes where the guns are securely stored. Immediately, my family’s rate goes down since I am the only one who knows the combination to this safe. Also, how many are done with stolen or illegally owned guns bought at gun shows where you don’t need the background checks and permit to purchase required to buy a pistol in a retail store? What is the income distribution profile for these incidents? People with with lower incomes are likely to live in places where gun violence and break-ins are more common and want guns, and less likely to invest in secure storage.

    I don’t doubt that the statistics they gathered are accurate, They tell us that these problems exist, but that’s not looking deep enough for me.

  7. Submitted by Steve Rose on 01/23/2014 - 09:32 am.

    Suicide Prevention

    How many of those gun suicides would have been prevented by the absence of a gun in the house? The reader is lead to believe that all of them would have been prevented.

    With nearly no civilian gun ownership, Japan achieves a suicide rate nearly twice that of the U.S. How do they do it without any guns? One popular method involves producing a gas from common household liquids. Banning those products would not address the root cause of suicide, and until you address the root cause of any problem, you have not addressed the problem at all.

  8. Submitted by Kevin Vick on 02/02/2015 - 12:42 pm.

    Having Household Cleaners in Your Home…..

    Having household cleaners in your home significantly increases the chances of a child dying from ingesting them. Having a swimming pool at your home significantly increases the risk of someone drowning. Owning, driving, or being a passenger in a car significantly increases your risk of dying in a car accident. This writer is trotting out a very tired straw man argument.

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