This week, as people continue to debate gun control in the wake of the Colorado movie theater shooting, some have argued that guns make people safer. So we wondered: Will having more guns offer people more protection?
Some people’s buying habits certainly suggest they may think having a gun will provide more safety. The weekend after the shooting, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation approved background checks for 2,887 people who wanted to purchase a firearm, which was a 43 percent increase over the previous weekend and a 39 percent increase over the first weekend in July. Similar spikes in potential gun purchases have occurred after similar tragedies.
But what is the likelihood people will need those guns to protect themselves, such as from a home invader or a robber? Studies and surveys show that people often say they own guns for protection purposes, but it’s very rare that they use them in self defense, according to the National Institute of Justice. In fact, the Harvard Injury Control Research Center found that where there are more guns, both men and women are at a higher risk for homicide.
It’s not just true for the U.S., but other developed countries as well. Where guns are more available, there are more homicides. We’re not saying that people shouldn’t be able to legally purchase guns. But we want to make sure the starting point for discussion about gun control is framed correctly: Having more guns does not necessarily make people safer.
Using guns for hunting or target practice, clearly, is fine, but too often guns are used for illegal purposes. In 2005, about 11,300 people in the United States were killed by firearms, and about 477,000 were victims of crimes committed with firearms. Most murders in the U.S. are committed with guns, especially handguns, according to the National Institute of Justice.
The U.S. has far more guns and gun-related deaths than other countries. Among industrialized nations, the U.S. firearm-related death rate is more than twice that of the next-highest country, according to the Firearm & Injury Center at Penn State, which collects data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. The U.S. has the most weapons per person out of any country in the world, with 90 guns for every 100 people.
The opportunity for a law-abiding gun owner to use a gun in self defense will occur perhaps once or never in a lifetime, according to information provided by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. More opportunities arise for regular people with guns to use them inappropriately.
How to reduce the rate of gun violence, while preserving people’s right to bear arms, is a larger discussion involving how to stem firearms trafficking, more aggressively prosecute prohibited people who illegally possess guns, provide background checks for all gun sales, better educate owners about proper use and storage and better educate teens about related issues, such as dating violence and bullying.
But if the U.S. is ever going to work to reduce the number of deaths and injuries associated with firearms, it would be helpful to have a base point of agreement: Too many guns are used for the wrong purposes. Producing and buying more of them is not the answer.