Does a gun make you safer?

This blog curates the voices of the Division of Psychoanalysis (39) of the American Psychological Association. Elizabeth Hegeman, PhD, of the DIV 39 Prevention of Gun Violence Committee submits this post.

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After every school shooting, movie house, or mall massacre, there is a jump in the number of gun sales. We must be very scared. And so we do something that makes us feel safe: We buy guns. But does gun ownership really make you safer in your home? 

 

Test yourself on the following quiz:

1. True or False:

a) A gun in the home cuts the risk of homicide by three.

b) The risk of homicide in the home is three times greater in households with guns.

c) A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in self-defense than in a homicide, suicide or unintentional shooting.

d) Only 15 people a day on average are injured by guns, but do not die, in the U.S.

 

2. The number of gun suicides in the U.S. in 2010 was:

a) 1,955

b) 3,012

c) 5,232

d) 10,339

e) 19,392

 

3. The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that the number of military veterans who die by suicide every day is:

a) 3

b) 10

c) 18

d) 50

e) 88

 

Answers

1. The only correct answer is (b)—having a gun in your house increases your risk of being killed threefold. Crime data show that the simple presence of a gun in a household makes that gun available to an intruder to use against you, to a sleep-fogged spouse trying to protect a family, an enraged partner even with a history of domestic violence, or a curious child exploring a closet. So, a gun in the home actually triples the risk of homicide. The number 22 in answer (c) may see pretty high—but the reverse of that statement is really the truth! According to the New England Journal of Medicine, a gun in your house is 22 times more likely to be used to hurt or kill someone in that home than to defend someone in that home. This number includes accidental injuries that happen when someone is cleaning or loading a gun. In fact, the number of nonfatal gun injuries in the U.S. is more than 20 every day so answer (d) underestimates the problem.

2. Sadly, (e) is the right answer. One of the most effective ways to prevent suicide is to take away access to the ways people might kill themselves. Suicidal people are often ambivalent about killing themselves. Those feelings can be changed over time, and if we can stop someone in the moment, we are likely to save a life. For example, in Britain, when Tylenol packaging was changed to a single-pill hard plastic package, suicide rates by Tylenol dropped by half. Less availability led to less death. Imagine the effect on a suicidal person of having a handy gun with ammunition right there on the shelf! In fact, the risk of suicide with a firearm in the home increases by a factor of 17! One expert estimates that the suicide risk period is transient for 85-90 percent of people who try to commit suicide. This means that it is crucial to protect vulnerable people from gun availability while they are most at risk.

3. More veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have died by their own hand than have died in combat. The answer is 18 per day—far too many, and largely because of gun access. The yearly toll of suicides by gun in 2010 included 749 children and teenagers. According to Marion Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund, “Gun suicides have contributed to a terrible overall trend: Suicide has now overtaken car accidents as the leading cause of injury-related deaths for the total population in the United States.”

About the Author

Kristi Pikiewicz

Kristi Pikiewicz, Ph.D., is managing editor of the American Psychological Association's Division of Psychotherapy DIVISION/Review.

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