10 Big Questions in the U.S. Gun Control Debate


How Often Are People Killed by Their Own Guns?

baby casket, mourners
Mourners look upon the casket containing the body of 19-month-old Suzie Marie Pena who was shot to death by police as her father held her while shooting at SWAT officers during a standoff in the Los Angeles community of Watts. David McNew/Getty Images

This is the point that gun control proponents often cite to counter arguments that guns deter crime. People who have guns in their households, they argue, actually may be at greater risk of being hurt or killed by a bullet — possibly one fired by an angry spouse or by a child playing with a gun that's been left out and loaded.

Again, there's some social science to support this. A 2003 study published in the journal Injury Prevention found that people in families where someone purchased a gun actually faced an elevated risk of homicide, suicide and accidental death [source: Grassel et al]. Another study published in American Journal of Public Health found that 43 percent — neatly half — of all homes with guns and kids also had one unlocked firearm.

One big risk is that having a gun within easy reach can escalate an argument or fight into a homicide. A 1992 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that victims whose family members used a gun in an assault were 12 times more likely to die than when attackers used other weapons such as knives, or their bare hands [source: Saltzman et al].

However, an article that appeared in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy pointed out that many of the "acquaintance homicides" involved, for instance, drug dealers shooting at each other. "Approximately 90 percent of adult murderers have adult records. ... including four major adultfelony arrests," said the authors [source: Kates and Mauser].

Most Americans who die from gun violence in their own homes actually inflict it upon themselves: Nearly 45,000 people commit suicide every year in the United States and in 2016, more than half (51 percent) used a firearm [source: ASFP].