Monday, December 3, 2012

Risks of gun ownership outweigh the rewards

Think that owning a gun will make you or your family safer? You may want to think again.

A peer-reviewed article by David Hemenway, published last year in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine summarized scientific evidence regarding the health risks and benefits of gun ownership. On the risk side, Hemenway reviewed studies of how guns contributed to accidental deaths and injuries, suicides, homicides, and violent intimidation. On the benefit side, Hemenway examined studies of the effects of guns on crime deterrence, self-defense, and to stop crimes in progress. His conclusions were crystal clear.
...for most contemporary Americans, the 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. The evidence is overwhelming that a gun in the home is a risk factor for completed suicide and that gun accidents are most likely to occur in homes with guns. There is compelling evidence that a gun in the home is a risk factor for intimidation and for killing women in their homes, and it appears that a gun in the home may more likely be used to threaten intimates than to protect against intruders. On the potential benefit side, 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.
Hemenway cites some astounding statistics. For instance, with respect to accidents.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data, between 2003 and 2007, the typical resident from the 15 states with the most guns (WY, MT, AK, SD, AR, WV, AL, ID, MS, ND, KY, TN, LA, MO, and VT) was 6 times more likely to die in a gun accident than a typical resident from the 6 states with the fewest guns (HI, NJ, MA, RI, CT, and NY). For example, although there were virtually the same number of children aged 5 to 14 years in both groups of states, 82 had died from accidental gunshot wounds in these high gun states, compared with 8 in the low gun states.
Hemenway is careful to note, correctly, that the absolute risks of either suffering harm or deriving a safety benefit from gun ownership are low. Nevertheless, the risks of harm outweigh the possibilities of benefit.