In general, no.
There is no doubt that on occasion, an honest, law-abiding citizen is able to effectively protect himself, herself, or a family member with a gun, but on the whole, guns in our homes and in our communities are far more likely to be used to kill, injure, or intimidate honest law people than to protect them.
It is estimated that there are approximately 200-300 million privately owned firearms in the United States,1 and that 38-48% of adults keep firearms in their home.8 2 Most persons who keep handguns at home cite "personal protection" as the reason for having firearms.3 In fact, however, several studies in the medical literature have shown that guns in the home are much more likely to be used to kill, 4 5 injure, 6 or intimidate 7 a household member than to protect against an attacker. In one of the best known studies on this subject, it was found that for every one time a gun in the home was used to kill an intruder, there were 43 firearm-related homicides, suicides, or accidental deaths involving household members.15
Numerous other studies in the medical literature have shown that the presence of a gun in the home is associated with an increased risk of a household member becoming a victim of homicide or suicide.8 9 10 11 12 Most school shootings, including the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, are committed with guns brought from home.13 Other studies have shown that the purchase of a handgun is associated with an increased risk of the purchaser becoming a victim of suicide or homicide over the ensuing five to six years. 14 15
The evidence in the medical literature that widespread firearm availability is associated with more risk than benefit is consistent with data from law enforcement agencies and other government sources. An analysis of crime and criminal victimization data from 1987-1992 showed that the ratio of violent crimes committed with a handgun to protection of person with a firearm was 15:1.16 A more recent study showed that assault victims who were carrying a gun at the time of the assault were 4.5 times more likely to be shot and 4.2 times more likely to be killed than assault victims who were not carrying a gun.17
The contention that "responsible gun ownership" deters crime is based largely on anecdotal reports and quasi-scientific studies published outside of the medical literature. One of the most often quoted studies claims that there are 2.5 million incidents of defensive gun use annually in the United States.18 This study was a telephone survey in which none of the alleged defensive gun uses reported by telephone respondents was actually confirmed. The estimate of 2.5 million defensive gun uses annually in this study is an extrapolation based on the result that 66 out of 4,977 respondents to the survey (1.3%) reported using a gun defensively in the past year. Other authors have pointed out the inherent fallacy in extrapolating from 66 unconfirmed reports of defensive gun use to the conclusion that there are 2.5 million defensive gun uses annually in the U.S.19 20 It has also been noted that a higher portion of the population reports having had contact with space aliens than having used a gun defensively.21 Another study frequently cited by opponents of gun control purports to show that allowing private citizens to carry concealed weapons reduces crime.22 Serious methodological flaws have also been noted in this study,23 24 and its conclusion is not consistent with other studies in the criminology literature 25 26 In a review of the literature on firearms and violence, the Committee on Law and Justice of the National Academy of Sciences recently concluded that there is no credible evidence that the carrying of concealed weapons by private citizens reduces crime.27
- American Medical Association Council on Scientific Affairs. Firearms injuries and deaths: a critical public health issure. Public Health Rep 1989;104:111-120.
- Cook PJ, Ludwig J. Guns in America: national survey on private ownership and use of firearms. National Institute of Justice Research in Brief, May 1977, pp. 1-12.
- Blendon RJ, Young JT, Hemenway D. The American public and the gun control debate. JAMA 1996;275:1719-1722.
- Kellerman AL, Reay DT. Protection or peril. An analysis of firearm-related deaths in the home. N Engl J Med 1986;314:1557-1560.
- Rushforth NB, Hirsch CS, Ford AB, Adelson L. Accidental firearm fatalities in a metropolitan county (1958-1973). Am J Epidemiol 1975;100:499-505.
- Kellerman AK, Somes G, Rivara FP, et al. Injuries and deaths due to firearms in the home. J Trauma 1998;45:263-267.
- Azrael D, Hemenway D. In the safety of your own home: results from a national survey on gun use at home. Social Science and medicine. 2000;50:285-291.
- Kellerman AL, Rivara FP, Rushforth NB, Banton JG, Reay DT, Francisco JT, et al. Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide. N Engl J Med 1993;329:1084-1091.
- Shah S, Hoffman RE, Wake L, Marine WM. Adolescent suicide and household access to firearms in Colorado: results of a case-control study. J Adolesc Health 2000;26:157-163.
- Wiebe DJ. Homicide and suicide risks associated with firearms in the home: a national case-control study. Ann Emerg Med 2003;41:771-782.
- Kellerman AL, Rivara FP, Somes G, Reay DT, Francisco J, Banton JG, et al. Suicide in the home in relation to gun ownership. N Engl J Med 1992;327:467-472.
- Dahlberg LL, Ikeda RM, Kresnow MJ. Guns in the home and risk of a violent death in the home: findings from a national study. Am J Epidemiol 2004;160:929-936.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Source of firearms used by students in school-associated violent deaths - United States, 1992-1999. MMWR 2003;52:169-172.
- Cummings P, Koepsell TD, Grossman DC, Savarino J, Thompson RS. The association between the purchase of a handgun and homicide or suicide. Am J Pub Health 1997;87:974-978.
- Wintemute, G.J., Parham, C.A., Beaumont, J.J., Wright, M., & Drake, C. Mortality among Recent Purchasers of Handguns. The New England Journal of Medicine. 1999. Vol 341, No. 21, 1583-1589.
- Rand MB. Guns and Crime: Handgun Victimization, Firearm Self-Defense, and Firearm Theft Crime Data Brief. U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs Bureau of Justice Statistics April 1994, NCJ-147003.
Branas CC, Richmond TS, Culhane DP, Ten Have TR, Wiebe DJ. Investigating the link between gun possession and gun assault. Am J Public Health 2009;99:2034-2040.
- Kleck G, Gertz M. Armed resistance to crime: the prevalence and nature of self-defense with a gun. The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 1995;86:150.
- Cook PJ, Ludwig J, Hemenway D. The Gun Debate’s New Mythical Number: How Many Defensive Uses per Year? Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 16, No. 3, 463-469 (1997).
Webster D. Myths about defensive gun use and permissive carry laws. Prepared for the "Strengthening the Public Health Debate on Handguns, Crime, and Safety Meeting," October 14 and 15, 1999, Chicago, Il.
Hemenway D. Survey research and self-defense gun use: an explanation of extreme overestimates. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 1997;87:1430-31.
- Lott JR, Mustard D. Crime, deterrence and right-to-carry concealed handguns. Journal of Legal Studies 1997;26:1-68.
- Black DA, Nagin DS. Do right-to-carry laws deter violent crime. J Leg Stud 1998;27:209-219.
- Webster DW, Vernick JS, Ludwig J, Lester KJ. Flawed gun policy research could endanger public safety. Am J Public Health. 1997;87:918-921.
- McDowall D, Loftin C, Wiersma B. Easing concealed firearms laws: effects on homicide in three states. J Crim Law Criminol 1995;86:193-206.
- Ludwig J. Concealed gun carrying laws and violent crime: evidence from state panel data. Int Rev Law Econ 1998;18:239-254.
- Committee on Law and Justice, National Academy of Sciences. Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review. 2004.