Research Finds That Having a Gun in Your Home Can Make Your Household Less Safe

A new study finds that residents of states with higher levels of gun ownership are more likely to be shot to death by a family member or intimate partner.
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Visitors view gun displays at a National Rifle Association outdoor sports trade show on February 10th, 2017, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Visitors view gun displays at a National Rifle Association outdoor sports trade show on February 10th, 2017, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Owning a gun makes some people feel safer, even though a lot of research suggests that owning a gun makes you less safe. Recent studies have linked having a firearm in the home with increased rates of suicide, especially among youth.

New research reveals that the presence of firearms in a house can increase the lethality of domestic violence. A new study finds that residents of states with higher levels of gun ownership are more likely to be shot to death by a family member or intimate partner.

"While personal protection is a commonly cited reason for owning a gun, our research shows that firearm ownership also confers significant risks to loved ones, as they are more likely to be killed if there is a gun in the household," lead author Aaron Kivisto, a University of Indianapolis psychologist, said in announcing the results.

"Our findings highlight the importance of firearm removal in protecting victims of domestic violence, the majority of whom are women," Kivisto said.

Using several sources of information, including homicide reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the researchers compared the rate of registered gun ownership in each of the 50 states with the rates of both domestic and non-domestic firearm-related homicides in each state. They considered the years 1990 through 2016, and published their results in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"Domestic homicides are defined as those with victims categorized as intimate partners or other family," the researchers note. Non-domestic homicide are those in which the victims are friends, acquaintances, or strangers to the shooter.

After taking into account other factors that could contribute to homicide rates, including poverty, unemployment, average alcohol consumption, and rates of high school completion, the researchers found a disturbing (if perhaps predictable) pattern.

"These results suggest that one-third of all homicides are classified as domestic, and most of these cases involve female victims," the researchers write. "Furthermore, domestic homicides committed by family members and intimate partners increase as the levels of firearm ownership increase."

Specifically, for each 10 percent increase in household gun ownership rates, the researchers found a 13 percent increase in domestic homicides involving firearms.

In contrast, the study found no significant association between firearm ownership rates and non-domestic homicides using firearms. That could reflect the fact that many gang-related and other crime-related killings are committed using illegally obtained weapons.

The researchers note that there are several federal statutes aimed at reducing domestic firearm homicides, but that "little has been done at the federal level to enforce these laws." This lack of federal enforcement suggests "the need for state firearm legislation directed toward protecting victims of domestic violence, as access to firearms uniquely increases the likelihood of homicide among this population," the team writes.

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