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

How Often Are People Killed by Guns That They or Family Members Own?
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 2 1/2-hour 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 loaded.

Again, there's some social science to support this. A 1997 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that people in families where someone purchased a gun actually faced an elevated risk of death over the next five years [source: Cummings et al.]. A three-year study of gunshot injuries in Galveston, Texas, found that only two incidents occurred during burglaries, but there were more than 100 cases of family members, friends and acquaintances being shot by guns in a home [source: Hemenway].

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 [Kates and Mauser].

Most Americans who die from gun violence in their own homes actually inflict it upon themselves: 19,766 people used guns to commit suicide in 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available. That accounted for more than half of the U.S. suicides and is much higher than the 2011 gun homicide rate of 11,101 [source: Hoyert and Xu].

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