Does Owning a Gun Increase or Decrease Safety? Science Answers

When we think about self-protection and self-defense, people of different cultures think of different things. But for most Americans, guns have always been thought of as a means for this. Considering that firearms can be instantly lethal, they make other self-defense forms appear like a total waste of time. But does owning a gun really increase safety, or does it make you closer to potential danger? Is there a difference when it comes to safety if you own a gun or not?

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Here’s what science has to say:

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Access to guns does not reduce crime.

Gun users and advocates argue that allowing more citizens to carry more guns will deter crime. This idea is primarily based on a controversial 1997 study that analyzed crime rates, which gave the conclusion that criminal activity dropped in areas that eased gun permit rules. This is the work of John R. Lott Jr. and David B. Mustard, who analyzed US county crime data from 1977 to 1992. According to the study, murder rates dropped by 7.65% in 10 states after they eased rules of carrying concealed weapons.

Reviewers from the National Research Council stated that very tiny changes to Lott and Mustard’s model created large variations in outcomes, so it was impossible to calculate with their model how changes in permit law affect crime.

Research published by economist John Donohue of Stanford University disputed Lott and Mustard’s model. Donohue’s study found that violent crime rates dropped in states that did not have easy-to-obtain gun permits, but decreased a little in states that allowed these permits. Donohue also found that states with laws that make it easier for people to carry guns had similar or higher rates of rape than states that never eased on gun permit laws.

Access to guns heightens the risk of murder and suicide.

An armed home doesn’t mean it’s a safer home compared to unarmed ones. There’s a common belief that having guns in the house protects those who live there from crime. While it may be true in an ideal sense, studies have shown that it’s really not. According to several studies dating back to the 1980s and 1990s (and backed by more recent work), guns at home have been repeatedly linked to risk for homicide and suicide.

In the late 1980s to early 1990s, Professor Arthur Kellerman and his colleagues published several studies suggesting that murder and suicide were more common in homes with guns. The risks were indicated by “odds ratios,” and ratios greater than 1 meant more people with guns in their homes would be victims than people in gun-free homes.

Professor Douglas Wiebe, now at the University of Pennsylvania, and his colleagues conducted a study in 2003 that supported Kellerman’s conclusion. His study compared gun ownership levels among 3,679 murder and suicide victims and 21,619 similar non-victims. The research concluded that guns at home are linked to a 41% increase in odds of homicide compared to homes with no guns, and a 244% increase in odds for suicide.

Guns are rarely used for self-defense.

Claims that people need guns to defend themselves from criminals usually rely on a 1995 survey, which concluded that Americans used guns to ward off crime for up to 2.5 million times in a year. Bur subsequent research has come up with smaller numbers, which indicate that defensive gun use is unusual.

This 1995 study, published by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz of Florida State University, had 5,000 random Americans who were asked if they or any member of the household have used a gun for self-protection. Just more than 1 percent of the participants said yes, but the researchers extrapolated this percentage to the entire US population, giving it up to 2.5 million annual instances of defensive gun use. The figures in this survey are so much higher than in other researches. Some worry that these findings include reports of self-defense used by people who were not even victimized.

Meanwhile, the National Crime Victimization survey, which questioned tens of thousands of households, suggested that Americans use guns 65,000 times in self-defense per year. The participants were actual attack victims, whereas the participants in Kleck’s study were only picked randomly.

A 1998 study by Arthur Kellerman, which analyzed 628 shootings that happened around homes in three cities, found that homicides, suicides, accidental shootings, and assaults were much more common than self-defense in regards to gun use.

In 2015, a study by David Hemenway of Harvard University and his colleagues found out that there were far fewer uses than Kleck and Gertz reported. In his study, he asked about 14,000 people who were confirmed victims of abuse. The conclusion tells us that gun use for self-defense is super rare.


Even though every study has limitations, these results make it seem pretty clear that keeping a gun in the home decreases safely.