I have no real aversion to firearms. I might be getting more libertarian in my old age, where privacy and individual rights are taking on a position of more and more importance. What bothers me about the gun debate is how passionate and emotional people get about guns, on both sides of the issues, without truly emphasizing the facts we know.
It has been said that statistics can lie, be cherrypicked to support whatever position you’re going to stand behind. I have researched guns and gun violence extensively, and while there are many pro-gun websites and information hubs full of useful and appropriate positions, I double-checked sources and had difficulty verifying many claims. Below are studies and statistics verified through multiple sources.
While I don’t have an aversion to guns, I believe all of us need a good understanding of how guns are more than just tools. Because they are more that just tools. It is objectively true that a gun has a different effect on our thoughts and behavior than a hammer, or a screwdriver, or a stapler. Whether or not you believe you should have an unadulterated right to own a gun, you must acknowledge facts and reality. So here are some facts! Read them and make your own decisions.
Ok, so you want a gun to prevent crime. Great! It’s totally reasonable to want to protect your home, yourself, and your family.
States which allow homeowners to keep guns do see a reduction in violent crime. Often, these reductions are small, but significant. The use of a gun often prevents loss of property, but does not prevent victims from injury.
During the study interval (12 months in Memphis, 18 months in Seattle, and Galveston) 626 shootings occurred in or around a residence. This total included 54 unintentional shootings, 118 attempted or completed suicides, and 438 assaults/homicides. Thirteen shootings were legally justifiable or an act of self-defense, including three that involved law enforcement officers acting in the line of duty. For every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.
13 out of 626 were legally justifiable. 2% of the time, a gun prevents a crime. The other 98% of the time, guns are used for crimes, accidents, and suicides.
In 2010, for every time a gun was used to prevent a crime, guns were used to commit 36 crimes. Guns are much more likely to be used for criminal purposes.
Did you know that homeowners who use a gun to defend against home invasions and burglaries are actually more likely (43 times more likely) to kill someone in their family or that is known to them? Or that almost half the time, the homeowner’s gun will be taken and used against them?
Violent Crime According to the NCVS, looking at the total number of self-protective behaviors undertaken by victims of both attempted and completed violent crime for the five-year period 2007 through 2011, in only 0.8 percent of these instances had the intended victim in resistance to a criminal “threatened or attacked with a firearm.”11 As detailed in the chart on the next page, for the five-year period 2007 through 2011, the NCVS estimates that there were 29,618,300 victims of attempted or completed violent crime. During this same five-year period, only 235,700 of the self-protective behaviors involved a firearm. Of this number, it is not known what type of firearm was used or whether it was fired or not. The number may also include off-duty law enforcement officers who use their firearms in self-defense.
These studies are mostly correlational, but there are lots and lots and lots of them. One of the main arguments for gun ownership is if law abiding citizens don’t have guns, the criminals will run rampant. By this logic, it might be easy to find gun deaths with more guns, and one might think stronger restrictions shouldn’t affect gun deaths, because criminals still have guns. That doesn’t appear to be the case.
When there aren’t guns, criminals don’t tend to turn to other weapons; fatalities and violent crime rates go down. From Slate:
…the firearm ownership rate had no statistically significant impact on nonfirearm homicides, meaning there was no detectable substitution effect. That is, in the absence of guns, would-be criminals are not switching to knives or some other weapons to carry out homicide.These results are supported by a host of previous studies that illustrate that guns increase the rate of homicides.
Police officers are also more likely to be injured and killed in states where more guns are present – even legally purchased and owned guns.
Almost 38% of people who use guns for self-defense have their guns taken…which is how guns end up on the streets and the black market.
Guns and Women
It has been said for years that a gun is a kind of great equalizer between the sexes. Women are, by far, the majority of victims of rape, sexual assault, domestic violence. Few women have the physical strength to match a male attacker, so a gun is touted as the best protection one can have.
Domestic violence (DV) is extremely complex; emotional abuse and breaking down self-esteem is a hallmark of abusive behavior. It’s why many victims choose to stay with their abusers for years, even after severe violence and hospitalizations. Telling a DV survivor to shoot their abuser is easy and satisfying for those of us on the outside, but likely feels impossible to the woman in the relationship.
In a home where there is domestic violence, a gun makes it 20 times more likely the abuser will kill the victim. When there is a gun in the home, men are more likely to die by their own hand, while women are more likely to be killed by another person in the home.
Among the victims who reported that a firearm had been used against them, victimization by a handgun was reported twice as often as that by a long gun.
Only 7% of women in DV homes were able to use guns for self-defense.
Guns might not prevent rape or sexual assault either. Most sexual assaults are by people the survivor knows; the “stranger in the bushes” is a dangerous myth. Surprisingly, statistics show rape rates are higher in states with fewer gun restrictions – more guns, more rape. From the Examiner:
While this data does not deny that there are instances where a woman can defend herself with a gun, and indeed some have successfully done so, it does suggest that guns are more apt to provide an illusion of security than providing for actual security. If an armed society is a polite society, there is little evidence to suggest that politeness is extended to women. Rape rates are dramatically higher in states were guns are plentiful and where gun laws are lax. (emphasis mine)
Guns and Suicide
People with guns in the home do not have higher rates of mental illness, but kill themselves more often.
Half of suicide deaths involve guns.
Men are more likely to successfully commit suicide, partly because the means chosen are often violent. 70% of suicide is attempted by men.
Having a gun in the home not only increases suicidal ideation, but increases the rate of success.
The availability of firearms in the home may not be the catalyst for suicidal ideation, but firearms may be a preferred method of suicide among those who have suicidal thoughts. Betz and colleagues (52) found that adolescents with firearm access were no more likely to have suicidal thoughts or a suicide plan in the past 12 months than those without firearm access. However, among adolescents with a suicide plan, those with a firearm in the home were more than 7 times more likely to have a plan involving firearms than those without a firearm in the home (OR, 7.39 [CI, 2.04 to 26.84]) (52).
90% of people who attempt suicide unsuccessfully do not go on to die by suicide later. Suicide is often an impulsive act (over 55% of the time) and crisis oriented – guns make impulse permanent. You can’t un-shoot yourself.
As gun ownership goes down, suicide rates also go down.
Guns and Kids
So you want to make sure your kids are familiar with guns and know how to stay safe around them. It’s a great idea to provide knowledge and education to children.
Kids can often get to guns parents think are secure. Think about the effect on a kid who shoots another kid. Think about the devastation if your child killed themselves with your own gun. Pretty awful. And very likely, even if you’re trying to keep your guns secure and provide knowledge and education.
Results show that regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home, having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home. (emphasis mine)
Guns and Violent Behavior
As a psychologist, my main understanding of guns comes in how the actual physical presence of a firearm can influence our thinking and behavior. Obviously nothing is destiny, and very few things can force behavior, but we have to look at how guns affect the ways we act.
Merely seeing a gun can increase our aggression…and aggressive behavior. Even if you’re not “an angry person.” Even if it’s not your gun! From Psychology Today:
The weapons effect occurs outside of the lab too. In one field experiment, a confederate driving a pickup truck purposely remained stalled at a traffic light for 12 seconds to see whether the motorists trapped behind him would honk their horns (the measure of aggression). The truck contained either a .303-calibre military rifle in a gun rack mounted to the rear window, or no rifle. The results showed that motorists were more likely to honk their horns if the confederate was driving a truck with a gun visible in the rear window than if the confederate was driving the same truck but with no gun. What is amazing about this study is that you would have to be pretty stupid to honk your horn at a driver with a military rifle in his truck—if you were thinking, that is! But people were not thinking—they just naturally honked their horns after seeing the gun. The mere presence of a weapon automatically triggered aggression. (emphasis mine)
Seeing a gun increases testosterone levels, which is strongly correlated with aggressive behavior.
Police officers with guns are more likely to be aggressive and violent with the public and suspects. People with guns tend to see ordinary objects as dangerous or threatening. From the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence:
- Holding a gun can make you paranoid. In 2012, James Brockmole, an associate professor of psychology at Notre Dame, found that “Wielding a gun increases a person’s bias to see guns in the hands of others.” Participants holding a toy gun during an experiment were more likely than participants holding a neutral object, like a ball, to think that people on a computer screen in front of them were also holding a gun. Participants were shown images of people that changed throughout the experience: sometimes the people in the image would be wearing ski masks and sometimes the computer would change the race of the people. Participants holding guns were “more likely to classify objects held by others as guns and, as a result, to engage in threat-induced behavior.”
The weapon, combined with the uniform, sunglasses, and the power and authority conferred by the role, short-circuits thinking in favor of unconscious bias, hostile appraisal, and instinctual aggression. As more police killings are being publicized and protested by the mainstream American public, it’s worth looking at ways weapons influence ourselves and our police force.