Guns in homes can increase risk of death and firearm-related violence

Published on February 4, 2010 at 1:59 AM · 19 Comments

Having a gun at home not only increases the risk of harm to one's self and family, but also carries high costs to society, concludes an article in the February Southern Medical Journal, official journal of the Southern Medical Association. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health, a leading provider of information and business intelligence for students, professionals, and institutions in medicine, nursing, allied health, and pharmacy.

"Firearm-related violence vastly increases expenditures for health care, services for the disabled, insurance, and our criminal justice system," writes Dr. Steven Lippmann of University of Louisville School of Medicine, and colleagues. "The bills are paid by taxpayers and those who buy insurance."

Guns at Home Increase Dangers, Not Safety
Based on a review of the available scientific data, Dr. Lippmann and co-authors conclude that the dangers of having a gun at home far outweigh the safety benefits. Research shows that access to guns greatly increases the risk of death and firearm-related violence. A gun in the home is twelve times more likely to result in the death of a household member or visitor than an intruder.

The most common cause of deaths occurring at homes where guns are present, by far, is suicide. Many of these self-inflicted gunshot wounds appear to be impulsive acts by people without previous evidence of mental illness. Guns in the home are also associated with a fivefold increase in the rate of intimate partner homicide, as well as an increased risk of injuries and death to children.

Gun-related violence also has psychological and other consequences for survivors—especially children. Dr. Lippmann and colleagues point out that easy access to guns also enables tragic episodes like the mass killings at Virginia Tech University, in which a background check might have prevented the shooter from obtaining a weapon. Such "tragically recurrent" events are in addition to gun deaths related to criminal activities, gang violence, interpersonal disagreements, and other incidents.

Gun Violence Carries High Costs for Society
Dr. Lippmann and colleagues cite research showing the massive economic consequences of firearm violence. Medical care for gunshot victims in the United States is up to $4 billion per year. Including indirect costs such as disability and unemployment, the costs may total up to $100 billion. In the authors' city of Louisville, expenses for uninsured gun-injury victims alone exceed the money allotted for indigent medical care costs for the entire community.

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Comments
  1. Ron Ron United States says:

    Perhaps the fine doctors can focus on an issue that the American people actually endorse such as getting rid of the infected illegal immigrants who waltz across the borders carrying multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.

  2. Turk Turon Turk Turon United States says:

    1) These research papers used high-risk populations with extensive histories of drug-abuse, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and criminal records. The research has little to offer about the risks of keeping a firearm in a "normal" American home.

    2) Correlation does not prove causation. This is like doing a study to determine how diabetics differ from non-diabetics, noting that diabetics are more likely to possess insulin, and concluding that insulin possession is a risk factor for diabetes.

    3) American suicide rates actually compare favorably with other nations where firearm ownership is lower. People bent on self-destruction will find ways to do it even if firearms are not available.

    4) A majority of American homicide victims (up to 80% in some surveys) had criminal records, or had traces of narcotics in their systems when they arrived at the ER. Most homicide in the U.S. is criminals killing other criminals.

    • Andrew Grant Andrew Grant United States says:

      1) These research papers used high-risk populations with extensive histories of drug-abuse, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and criminal records. The research has little to offer about the risks of keeping a firearm in a "normal" American home.

      What is normal to you is abnormal to others. Do you somehow believe that you have a status that is above that of others? What difference does the population make...which, I might add, you are exaggerating about anyways.

      2) Correlation does not prove causation. This is like doing a study to determine how diabetics differ from non-diabetics, noting that diabetics are more likely to possess insulin, and concluding that insulin possession is a risk factor for diabetes.

      All studies that show the dangers of cigarette smoking are correlational in nature. Enough correlations can, in sum, show causation. And with gun violence, the correlations are all there. More guns correlates positively with more gun violence. It is just a statistical fact at this point. That points to the obvious solution (reduce the amount of guns in our society) but this is obvious so you think it is wrong.

      3) American suicide rates actually compare favorably with other nations where firearm ownership is lower. People bent on self-destruction will find ways to do it even if firearms are not available.

      Indeed, very depressed and repressed societies like Korea and Japan, who have lower gun ownership, have higher suicide rates. But, they have extremely low rates of gun violence, which is what we are talking about reducing here. Besides, we would have even lower rates of suicide if we did not have such an effective tool at our disposal to do the job. Many more suicides would fail, and those people would still be around for us to help.

      4) A majority of American homicide victims (up to 80% in some surveys) had criminal records, or had traces of narcotics in their systems when they arrived at the ER. Most homicide in the U.S. is criminals killing other criminals.

      On this point, you are just wrong. Most gun violence is committed domestically by the family members on each other or themselves with the gun they personally own. Crime (robbery and burglary) accounts for a lot of gun deaths too. Ironically, self-defense, the reason gun advocates say they own guns, accounts for about 1% of all gun deaths.

      That 1% accounts for less people than the amount of people that could be saved by reducing the amount of guns we have in this country.

      • Stephen Garramone Stephen Garramone United States says:

        Exactly.  The guns bring violence onto the owners and little onto the "perps."  And stupid home gun accidents ... Oh My God!

        Keep the guns in an armory, where their use and storage would be supervised.

  3. Get real Get real United States says:

    Most medical studies are unusually one sided. They also tend not to check facts like it wasn't the homeowners gun used and cherry pick data high crime areas used. They also do not take into account the estimated 1-2.5 million self defense uses per year where in most cases the firearm is not even fired. Kleck's study found a much higher value to the positive use of the firearms and it has been reviewed and proven to be highly accurate by both sides pro and anti gun people.

  4. Surgere Surgere United States says:

    A firearm is just a tool, much like a car (which are 20-50 times more likely to kill you than firearms are, depending on whose statistics you're using). Any misuse of a tool is the fault of the operator, not the tool. So spend your time/money/energy educating people on the proper use of firearms. That way we can all be both safe and free, rather than just unharmed slaves.

    • Liz Od Liz Od United States says:

      That's like saying we should focus our time/money/energy on educating people on how to be better drivers to avoid car crashes instead of installing seat belts and airbags in our cars. Just because the blame doesn't lie within the actual tool- the car or the gun, doesn't mean we should ignore the tool itself. How about both? Perhaps increasing the screening of potential gun buyers could make a difference, much like the driving test required for licensing.

  5. Black Blade Black Blade United States says:

    On the other hand, doctors have killed more people than firearms. Perhaps we can conclude that doctors are a real danger to society. We can also conclude that more people die in hospitals than in the home and therefore hospitals are a danger to society. Any data set can be tortured and misapplied to reached a pre-determined conclusion ("self fullfilling prophecy"). In my years of research I have seen several colleagues and students abuse statistics in this way. Nice try guys but most rational thinking adults see through the political agenda.  

  6. Doug Graham Doug Graham Australia says:

    Typically for an author with a pre-existing anti-firearms ownership  agenda, Dr. Lippmann goes to great lengths to establish causation for an inanimate object (firearm) incapable of independent action, with complex social problems such as suicide. In Australia the draconian imposition of gun prohibitions saw a decline of firearms-involved suicide, but no change in the thirty year gradual decline in suicide rates. In other words, guns cannot "cause" suicide. Much the same can be said for incidents of domestic violence involving firearms. Any study purporting to demonstrate causation must deal with the vast number of firearms in society which are not involved in any sort of violence. Any attempt to blame an object for medico-social problems is destined to fail upon closer inspection.

    For the good doc's information, the V.T. shooter did indeed pass his background check when purchasing his firearms - because patient confidentiality forbade release of his records pertaining to mental instability. This has since been remedied by the Virginia Legislature.

  7. Allen Allen United States says:

    True, a firearm in the home is far more dangerous than not.  But the same goes for drugs, alcohol, kitchen knives, electricity, 2nd floor windows, picket fences, German shepherds, fireplaces, gas stoves, space heaters, over eating in the home etc.  The president recently referred to an estimated 5 BILLION dollar savings by implementing proposed tort reform being too little, so why would 4 billion dollars in firearm injuries come to question?  How about the many lives a firearm does save?  Is the doctor saying the expense outweighs those lives.  I appreciate the effort, but hope those responsible for this report, also investigate other dangers in the home. BTW:  Proper education and respect for firearms will go a long way.  No different than a proper drivers education.   I can't argue the impulse of someone choosing to kill themselves by firearm, but they also use other methods.

  8. Rosci T Rosci T United States says:

    Curious to know exactly what the "scientific data" is that these conclusions are based upon. Who was in the study. When was it conducted? How many households? What correlative data was used to tie the gun ownership into the hospital visits and death stats. What studies were shown to compare non-gun-ownership and hospital visits and deaths. What data was used to compare deaths from break-ins, home-invasions, burglaries, and assaults in homes without protection vs homes with protection? Who funded this study? Was it George Soros and his group who is extremely anti-gun? Or was it a double blind study that was looking at many factors without the bias against guns being part of the questions and the research?

    Recent FBI data shows that gun deaths have DECREASED every year in the past 4 years. This is at a time when gun purchases and gun club memberships have RISEN steadily in the same four years. The deaths tracked were both for accidental gun deaths and gun deaths during a crime.

    And, in fact, as these statistics show - Doctors are 9,000 times more likely to cause a death than a gun in the home. Perhaps we should control doctors better. www.americanconservativedaily.com/.../

  9. R.Matthew Hardin R.Matthew Hardin United States says:

    There is absolutely no truth to the statement that guns in the home put you at more risk! None whatsoever! The figures used include people who own illegal guns and people who were involved other illegal activities. The suicides? Please, firearms are not the only way one can kill their self. That's just sheer stupidity! This is so obviously a manipulation of data that the ones conducting this "study" are engaging in an act of fraud.
    Unarmed people are the cause of increased criminal activity and should be charged extra taxes in order to pay for an increased police presence. You are more likely to be shot by a police officer than your own firearm or another permit/license holder. I'm glad to see that most of the commenters here can see this this article as horse$#!@.

  10. The Wandering Minstral The Wandering Minstral United Kingdom says:

    How utter ridiculous all the 'counter arguements' - if one has to grace them with that term -are.  Statistically you are 12 times more likely to kill yourself or a family member with a gun in your house - and you're very unlikely to kill an intruder because bluntly you're not trained in how to do so.  Law enforcement officers spend weeks learning how and when to use firearms and your Dirty Harry fantasies just won't come true.  You'll either end up shooting yourself in the foot (or worse) or end up shooting a family member, innocent bystander or neighbour coming to check you're OK after seeing an intruder flee.

    • Mike Williamson Mike Williamson United States says:

      Interesting.  I find no documentation showing "shooting self in foot" to be common during home invasions, nor collateral casualties.

      Justice Department Uniform Crime Reports would be helpful to your claims.  Or in this case, smash your uninformed fantasy world.

      LEOs typically spend a few hours learning to shoot, btw, which is all it takes (speaking as a professional in this field, which you clearly are not) for basic competence.

      Your "statistic" was debunked about 30 years ago, and is the same crap being recycled in this article--unable to distinguish correlation from causality, and cherry picking data.

      But don't let people who actually know the subject get in the way of your hysteria.

      And good luck convincing 94 million gun owning families, and the Supreme Court, that you're right.

  11. Gina Gonzales-Baley Gina Gonzales-Baley United States says:

    To the naysayers, these data can be borne out by death certificate and police records. But don't let facts get in the way of your mythical lives.

    • Megan Williams Megan Williams United States says:

      And people with semi-automatics kill the most people in the shortest amount of time (with the exception of bombs, but what is the frequency for that occurance in the US lately?)

    • Mike Williamson Mike Williamson United States says:

      Actually, no they can't.

      Here's a clue:  This is a medical journal, with a political ax to grind.  Their knowledge of firearms? About on par with yours.

      Would you, or they, find a treatise on heart surgery in Guns and Ammo to be informative or of interest?  Probably not.

      It's very easy to believe things are simple, obvious, and right, when they support your own prejudices. This is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

      Consider for a moment:  Kleck, Wright-Rossi, Lott, UCR, ICVS, SOT, pre-May Sample, NFA, FOPA, direct impingement, short stroke piston, open bolt, K-baffle, NDA 1916, C&R, DIAS

      If you don't recognize each of those terms without using Google, you are thoroughly ignorant of firearms at the professional level, and your opinion is approximately as valuable as your thoughts on astrophysics.

      Spend a few years learning what you're talking about, come back, and perhaps we'll be interested in your opinions.

  12. wildlifer 59 wildlifer 59 United States says:

    Right, because the second you kill an intruder, it's counted as "firearm-related violence". It really gets old bogus stats from both sides of the argument keeps getting supported by the "press".

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News-Medical.Net.
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