Last week I watched a gun advocate claim that household guns deter crime. Like most political claims, there is a small grain of truth behind this enormously misleading assertion, but in only one area.
Statistics from the National Crime Victimization study show that having and using a gun did reduce the loss of property against theft. Looking at crimes where the perpetrator’s intent was to steal, the victims lost property in only 38% of the incidents when using a gun in “self-defense,”compared with 56% of the incidents when taking other actions against the thief.
In all other crimes against households, having a gun seems to make little difference in the outcomes. Using a gun in self-defense doesn’t reduce the risk of injury in the case of a break-in or assault in the home. Just over four percent of victims were injured during or after a self-defense gun use — the same percentage as were injured during or after taking other protective actions.
Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) indicate there are fewer than one hundred burglaries resulting in a homicide in the U.S. each year. BJS statistics also show that there were only 1,600 defense gun uses in the U.S. in 2014, but there were more than 200,000 firearms stolen in household burglaries and property crimes each year.
Studies of all fifty states have also shown that the higher the rate of firearm ownership, the higher the rate of gun deaths. When firearms ownership goes down, so do gun deaths. Likewise, when firearms ownership climbs in an area, increased gun deaths follow, indicating that gun ownership creates more deaths, rather than the contention that people buy guns because they’re reacting to firearms violence.
Nearly two-thirds of the people in the U.S. live in homes without guns, and statistics show no evidence that they are at greater risk of being robbed, injured or killed by criminals compared with citizens in homes with guns. Instead, the evidence is overwhelming that a gun in the home increases the likelihood not only that a household member will be shot accidentally, but also that someone in the home will die in a suicide or homicide. In the case of sexual assaults, in less than one half of one percent of the assaults did the victim use a gun in self-defense.
So… given all these statistics, why is there such opposition to even modest gun control measures?
The first reason is fear. People fear being victims, and they want to take action so they won’t be, even if that action creates the certainty of greater gun deaths. It’s in effect a form of selfishness, of saying, “I don’t give a damn about what my actions do to other people; I want to protect myself and my family.” The problem is, as the statistics show, having a gun usually does just the opposite.
Over the years, I’ve seen people lobby and complain about seat-belt laws, initially insisting that seatbelts would trap you in a burning car and otherwise create more deaths. I’ve seen motorcyclists complain about helmet laws and claim that such laws restrict personal freedoms. Or companies complain about environmental laws restricting their emission of harmful pollutants because those laws would make them unprofitable or put them out of business. A tremendous percentage of the opposition to measures that make society safe comes out of the very human motives of fear and not wanting to lose control.
What the NRA and the gun lobby people don’t want to admit is that they don’t really care about anyone or anything else. Their crusade for “second amendment rights” is based on appealing to people’s fear of losing control and becoming victims. We all have that fear. It’s fundamental to human existence.
The problem is that more guns, especially guns with larger magazines and more rapid rates of fire, just make the likelihood of more people becoming victims even greater. And the more victims there are, and the more widely those shootings are publicized, the more fearful people become, and the more guns that are sold, if to a smaller percentage of households.
Fear based on irrational feelings leads to more guns and more deaths by than guns than is the case without guns, and that’s something that’s gotten overlooked in all the furor.