Many conservative gun advocates will argue that increased rates of gun ownership—both internationally and within the United States—actually lead to fewer deaths. Some take the more modest position that gun ownership rates simply don't correlate with more deaths. A handful of graphs and statistics that purport to demonstrate this point are commonly cited and passed around within right-wing circles. As I show here, this position is flawed for many different reasons.
The graphs and data they cite suffer from glaring deficiencies, including comparing the US against failed states, not controlling for confounding variables, and using misleading metrics that suggest the opposite of what the truth actually is.
Among developed countries, higher gun ownership levels directly correlate with higher gun homicide and all-cause homicide rates. The same trend exists for gun deaths, generally, which include suicides, homicides, and accidental discharges. People with a gun in the home are much more likely to die in a gun homicide or suicide than those without a gun in the home—and gun-owners are also much more likely to use their gun to commit criminal homicide or suicide than they are to use it in a defensive homicide.
The conservative tendency to dismiss the high number of gun suicides as an irrelevancy makes no sense, especially considering that guns are uniquely and instantaneously effective as a means of committing suicide. An overall cost-benefit analysis of this question, both internationally and within the United States, shows that people are much more likely to be harmed by guns than they are to benefit from them.
We read an example of this argument in a Daily Wire article entitled "Six Facts That Show Gun Control Is Not The Answer" by Amanda Presitigiacomo (Pres-tiggy-uh-como? Press-tih-geeya-como? Christ, it's like three different last names were smushed together in some freak accident! We'll just call her Amanda P for short.)
"More guns do not equate to a higher homicide rate, despite what the Left purports. In comparison to countries like Russia, Venezuela, and Mexico, the United States has an exceedingly higher number of guns per capita, yet a lower homicide rate."
How about, Amanda Presitigia-put-me-in-a-coma when I have to read your arguments?
After sharing this fact with us, she then shows us a graph which compares the homicide rate against the gun ownership rate of a bunch of different countries. As we can see, there's no clear correlation between the number of guns per capita and the homicide rate of these countries. Proof that the left is full of crap when they talk about guns, right?
Well the first thing to do is look at which countries the United States is being compared against here. With only a few exceptions, all of the countries on this graph with a higher homicide rate than the United States are located either in Africa or Central and Southern America, where conditions are not at all comparable with those in the United States and other developed, Western nations.
Many of these countries have been absolutely ravaged—for decades—by extreme poverty, internal warfare, brutal government oppression, drug cartel violence, and so forth. It's not even enough to say that conditions are dismal in many of these countries; many of them are outright failed states.
There's something called the Fragile States Index (formerly called the Failed States Index) which basically ranks countries according to how terrible things are there. I'm pretty sure Donald Trump refers to it as The Shithole Countries Index. As far as I can tell, there's no clear cut-off point at which a country officially becomes known as a "failed state," so let's just arbitrarily say that of the 178 countries in the Index, the top 30 or so can be considered either a failed state or close to being a failed state.
Of the 24 countries in this graph with a higher homicide rate than the US, 7 of them are in the Top 30 of the Failed States Index: Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Mali, Pakistan. Venezuela is #32 and Angola is 35. So basically, 9 of these 24 countries, or 38% of them, are either failed states or close to being failed states.
If these are the countries that you're comparing the United States against, it's easy to make us look good by comparison, but that's like bragging about having a higher test score than everybody in the special-ed class. You're seriously gonna compare the United States against the Congo? I'm pretty sure the people there are legally required to commit murder!
And even of the countries on this graph where conditions aren't quite bad enough to land them in "failed state" territory, many are nonetheless plagued by extreme crime, cartel violence, poverty, and a rich history of being crushed by brutal rulers—many of which have been backed by the United States, I might add. And here, of course, I'm referring to many of the Central and Southern American countries on the list, including Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Venezuela and Colombia.
Obviously you're going to have a higher homicide rate in such countries due to these many other factors—and I've never heard anybody argue that the only thing that contributes to the homicide rate is the gun ownership rate.
If you want to seriously investigate and isolate the impact that gun ownership itself has on homicide rates, you would do your best to eliminate as many confounding variables as possible, and that means you would compare countries that are very similar in many respects: in terms of their development levels, their poverty rates, and so forth. An analysis that compares the United States against a bunch of failed or struggling states—and then declares victory—is just not a serious one.
I mean, fine, if you want to be super pedantic and technical, you can say that these numbers prove that more guns per person doesn't necessarily always translate into a higher homicide rate. But lets get serious, run these comparisons among countries that are actually comparable, and let's see what conclusion we arrive at.
Let's begin by examining gun homicide rates, specifically. In a 2017 article, Alex Berezow looks exclusively at developed countries, comparing the number of guns per 100 people against the homicide by firearm rate, and as we can see, a direct correlation is unmistakable: the more guns, the higher the firearms homicide rate.
On the data-science website KDNuggets.com, we see a slightly different version of this comparison that plots gun homicides vs number of guns per 100 people among all countries with a GDP of over $20,000. Here we see that more guns tends to equal more gun homicides in similar countries.
Here's this same graph, except with the United States excluded. The same trend is clear, and it becomes even more clear if you remove the data point from conflict-embroiled Israel.
What kind of trend do we see within the United States? Here's a graph which compares gun ownership and gun homicide rates across all 50 states using 2014 data, and as we can see, there is no detectable trend. Ben Shapiro shared this graph in a Tweet where he said: "Notice near total lack of correlation."
This guy is really something when it comes to gun advocacy, by the way. Ben Shapiro is so pro-2nd Amendment that he sleeps with a gun under his gun! This guy's so pro-2nd Amendment that instead of gun silencers, he buys gun amplifiers. He's so pro-2nd Amendment that he'll invoke the Stand Your Ground Law on your property!
Of all the graphs I've seen used by right-wingers to support their views on this subject, this one is definitely the strongest. It's using what I would argue is the best measurement of gun ownership, namely, the percentage of the state population that owns a gun. It's also comparing states within the same country, so conditions within these states would presumably be similar. They're not identical, however, and that's the important thing here.
Different states do vary according to several metrics which impact the homicide rate, including poverty level, education, alcohol usage, and so forth. A 2007 study published in Social Science & Medicine by Matthew Miller et al used 2001–2003 data to examine the relationship between firearm ownership rates and homicide rates, and after controlling for many different variables, they found a clear, positive relationship.
"Analyses controlled for state-level rates of aggravated assault, robbery, unemployment, urbanization, per capita alcohol consumption, and a resource deprivation index . . . Multivariate analyses found that states with higher rates of household firearm ownership had significantly higher homicide victimization rates of men, women and children."
Source: "State-level homicide victimization rates in the US in relation to survey measures of household firearm ownership, 2001–2003," Matthew Miller et al. Social Science & Medicine, 64 (2007) 656–664.
And here's a graph from the paper showing that when you group states by their robbery levels, higher gun ownership rates are correlated with higher firearm homicide rates.
A similar 2013 study by Michael Siegel et al used a much larger data set—from 1981–2010—and after controlling for state-level confounders, they found that:
"Gun ownership was a significant predictor of firearm homicide rates [within the United States] . . . This model indicated that for each percentage point increase in gun ownership, the firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9%."
What trends do we see when we look more broadly at all-cause homicide rates?
The Crime Prevention Research Center, in a 2014 article, plots the homicide rate against the number of firearms per 100 people in developed countries, generating a positive correlation. Interestingly enough, however, when the United States is excluded from the analysis, we see an inverse correlation, albeit a very modest one. Put the U.S. back in, however, and the direct correlation returns.
Here's another graph that gets commonly cited by gun advocates which looks very convincing at first glance. The number of privately owned firearms in the United States is compared against the gun homicide rate from 1993–2013, and as we can see, the more guns in this country, the lower the homicide rate! Ben Shapiro shared this graph on Twitter, saying "Please explain how more guns inevitably means more murder."
And then he was like "Become a supporter today and you'll receive the Leftist Tears (Hot or Cold) tumbler."
Then Steven Crowder barged in and he was like: "Nah, bitch, join The Mug Club instead!"
What's with all of these right-wingers and their weirdly political, beverage-container promotions? We should start doing something similar on the left to compete with them: "Become a supporter at Patreon.com/aSkepticalHuman and you'll receive the Social Democrat tupperware set, complete with a Liberal Values spatula!"
The first thing to note about this graph is that we shouldn't make the mistake of confusing correlation with causation here. As I've already noted, many different factors contribute to a country's gun homicide rate—and in the case of the United States here during this time period, Max Ehrenfreund points out in a Washington Post article that several different factors contributed to a decline in the homicide rate, including a larger police force, better police technology, lower alcohol consumption and a reduction in environmental lead levels.
Given the impact of these many different variables on the homicide rate, it's difficult to isolate what impact gun ownership itself actually had. If the number of guns owned in this country stayed flat during this time period, perhaps the homicide rate would have decreased even more dramatically?
More guns could still mean more deaths if all other things were kept equal. It could simply be that these other factors, working in combination with each other, outweigh the impact of there being more guns.
To complicate matters even further, an improving economy over this time period—at least according to certain metrics—could be partly responsible for both of these divergent trends: better economic success means fewer people would need to turn to a life of crime to support themselves, and it would also mean that they have more money to spend purchasing guns!
So the analysis is a lot more complicated than many conservatives make it out to be.
Here's another very important point: Asking how the gun homicide rate compares against the number of guns in this country isn't the best question, and that's because the number of guns could increase even as the percentage of Americans owning a gun stayed the same or even declined!
Indeed, if you look at the data on this question—as the Violence Policy Center does in this graph of theirs—you see that the percentage of American households that own a gun has been declining over this time period, from about 45% in 1993 to 33% in 2013. Using this metric, you reach the exact opposite conclusion that you do from that previous graph: less gun ownership actually correlates with fewer gun homicides.
Here's another graph presented by Jeramy Townsley which plots the homicide rate in this country against the percentage of households with no guns, and as we can see, the more households with no guns, the lower the homicide rate—which I would argue makes much more intuitive sense.
Why is this a better metric, you might asking yourself? It's more dangerous when more people own a gun than when one individual owns several guns, and that's because the increased danger of each additional gun that that individual owns is going to be marginal.
Yes, more guns around the house could mean more opportunities for a child to encounter a firearm and accidentally discharge it. More guns in the house might mean more time spent cleaning and interacting with them, or more time spent juggling loaded weapons to impress your drunk friends—and thus, a higher risk of accidentally shooting oneself. But unintentional deaths like this only make up about 1% of annual gun deaths in this country.
When it comes to homicides and suicides—which comprise about 96% of gun deaths in this country—all a person really needs is one gun. It's not like owning 4 guns instead of 1 makes a person 4x more likely to kill themself or commit murder. No, the one is more than sufficient to get the job done. So from a harm-reduction standpoint, a fewer percentage of people owning guns is the much more impactful measurement.
It's not surprising that you rarely see right-wingers shining a spotlight on these statistics, because that comparison would actually undermine their case and support the gun control position.
So that's what the data shows us about the relationship between gun ownership and homicide rates. There's obviously much more to the gun debate than the simple question of murder, however. When you broaden things out and look at gun deaths, generally—which include homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings—the data is absolutely clear: more guns = more death.
Here we see a KDNuggets graph which compares gun deaths against number of guns per 100 people in countries with a GDP over $20,000 per person , and the direct correlation between these two metrics is impossible to miss.
Here's another graph provided by Mark Reid plotting the same two things for all OECD countries, and again, the positive correlation couldn't be more obvious.
And, finally, if you do a statewide comparison within the United States, comparing the gun death rate against the percentage of households that own a gun—as was done in a MotherJones article—you see that the direct correlation practically jumps off the screen at you.
Another interesting way to look at the data is to ask, does a person's risk of dying from suicide or homicide increase when there's a gun in the home? On this point, the data answers back with a resounding and not-at-all surprising "Yes."
Here's what we read in a Giffords Law Center publication:
"Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that living in a home where guns are kept increased an individual's risk of death by homicide by between 40 and 170%. Another study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology similarly found that 'persons with guns in the home were at greater risk of dying from a homicide in the home than those without guns in the home.' This study determined that the presence of guns in the home increased an individual's risk of death by homicide by 90%."
And here's what Linda Dahlberg et al write in a 2004 paper:
"Kellermann et al. examined the relation between gun ownership and injury outcomes. After they controlled for a number of potentially confounding factors, the presence of a gun in the home was associated with a nearly fivefold risk of suicide (adjusted odds ratio = 4.8) and an almost threefold risk of homicide (adjusted odds ratio = 2.7). Other case-control studies have also found an increased risk of suicide for those with firearms in the home, with relative risks ranging from 2.1 to 4.4."
Source: "Guns in the Home and Risk of a Violent Death in the Home: Findings from a National Study," by Linda Dahlberg et al. American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 160, Number 10, November 15, 2004.
Domestic abuse is also much more likely to lead to the death of the woman if the abuser has a gun. Jacquelyn Campbell et al took a close look at this subject in a 2003 paper in the American Journal of Public Health, and depending upon which statistical model they used, they found that women were between 5 to 9 times more likely to be killed by their abuser if he had access to a gun.
Who could have foreseen that being in close proximity to weapons that are designed to shoot and kill people would increase your risk of being shot and killed? This is just a stunning conclusion to me. What's next? More time spent driving makes you more likely to die in a car crash?
Something right-wingers point to as proof of the value of gun ownership the very high number of crimes and violent actions that are deterred by either brandishing or using a firearm.
Here's what Aaron Bandler writes on the subject in a Daily Wire article:
"The number of defensive gun uses are higher than the number of criminal firearm uses. There was a range of 500,000 to over 3 million defensive gun uses in 2013, according to research from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council published by the CDC. That same year, there were 11,208 firearm homicides and 414,562 nonfatal illegal gun uses, according to the CDC and National Justice Institute, respectively. Even when taking the low end of the defensive gun uses, it's clear that there are more defensive gun uses than criminal gun uses by Americans."
This is another example of right wingers presenting gun statistics that might sound convincing at first glance, yet crumble under scrutiny.
The Giffords Law Center presents a number of points that refute this argument:
"Claims that guns are used defensively millions of times every year have been widely discredited. Using a gun in self-defense is no more likely to reduce the chance of being injured during a crime than various other forms of protective action. At least one study has found that carrying a firearm significantly increases a person's risk of being shot in an assault; research published in the American Journal of Public Health reported that, even after adjusting for confounding factors, individuals who were in possession of a gun were about 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession.
The gun lobby has often cited a thoroughly debunked statistic that guns are used defensively 2.5 million times per year in the United States. That discredited estimate came from a 1995 study that suffered from several fatal methodological flaws, including its reliance on only 66 responses in a telephone survey of 5,000 people, multiplied out to purportedly represent over 200 million American adults. The authors of that discredited study themselves stated that in up to 64% of their reported defensive gun use cases, the guns were carried or used illegally, including cases where the victim was actually the aggressor."
And here's what the Violence Policy Center writes about the subject in a 2013 paper of theirs:
"Guns are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes. In 2010, across the nation there were only 230 justifiable homicides . . . That same year, there were 8,275 criminal gun homicides . . . In 2010, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 36 criminal homicides. And this ratio, of course, does not take into account the thousands of lives ended in gun suicides (19,392) or unintentional shootings (606) that year.
. . . the most accurate survey of self-defense gun use is the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
. . . Using the NCVS numbers, for the five-year period 2007 through 2011, the total number of self-protective behaviors involving a firearm by victims of attempted or completed violent crimes or property crimes totaled only 338,700. In comparison, the gun lobby claims that during the same five-year period guns were used 12.5 million times in self-defense."
12.5 million vs 338,700. This high estimate of defensive gun uses that conservatives claim take place each year is 37 times higher than the number arrived at using these NCVS numbers.
One counter-argument might be that these NCVS numbers underestimate the true number of DGUs because many of these go unreported to the proper authorities who track these sort of things. The criminologist Gary Kleck points this out in an NPR article:
"'If you tell the police, I just wielded a gun pointing a deadly weapon at another human being and claimed it was in self-defense, the police are going to investigate that . . . and they may well in the short run arrest you and treat you as a criminal until and unless you are cleared.'"
That's a fair point, but much more reliable and convincing when we look at this from a cost-benefit perspective are the stats on gun homicides that the VPC cites: For every one justifiable gun homicide in the United States, there are 36 criminal gun homicides. The existence of such a wide disparity makes it extremely difficult to use criminal deterrence as an argument in favor of more guns.
And just to really hammer this point home, here's what Evan Defilippis and Devin Hughes write in an article for The Trace:
"Women who were victims of attempted or completed crimes used guns to defend themselves just 0.4 percent of the time, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey.
. . . A Harvard study found that, of the more than 300 cases of sexual assault reported in the sample of NCVS data between 2007 and 2011, none were stopped by a firearm. Of the 1,119 sexual assaults reported in the NCVS from 1992 to 2001, a different study revealed that only a single case was stopped by defensive gun use.
. . . The evidence is clear: Women simply aren’t defending themselves with guns at a significant rate."
"Aha! The solution is obvious: We need to put more guns in the hands of these women! And why just stop at the hands, while we're at it? Maybe we could rig up some sort of gun-inside-the-vagina that would shoot a rapist in the dick or something?"
Yeah, good luck practicing that at the gun range!
When she said her pussy was gonna blow him away, she really meant it!
Talk about skeet shooting!
"I keep that muthafuckin' thang in me!"
"I hope you brought protection, pervert, because you're gonna need it! *gunshot sound*"
One of the main things that inspires gun purchases is imagining some sort of worst-case, home-invasion scenario where you need a gun to defend yourself. Evan and Devin, however, point out the astronomical rarity of such events, this time in an article for Slate. (I don't know what it is with these guys, by the way! Apparently they're like a package deal or something. Maybe they're Siamese twins? "We may be joined at the hip, physically, but when it's time to write articles, we become joined at the mind." I'm like: "Cool, so like, what happens when you guys have to take a dump?" They're like: "Come on, man! Why does everyone's mind have to go there?")
"Suppose a criminal has just broken into your house brandishing a firearm. You need to protect yourself and your family. Wouldn't anyone feel safer owning a gun? This is the kind of narrative propagated by gun advocates in defense of firearm ownership. It preys on our fear. Yet, the annual per capita risk of death during a home invasion is 0.0000002, which, for all intents and purposes, is zero."
The simple fact of the matter is that if you own a gun, you are dramatically more likely to accidentally kill yourself, intentionally kill yourself or commit homicide with it than you are to use it to kill an attacker. Here's what Kellerman & Reay conclude in a 1986 study of theirs:
"For every case of self-protection homicide involving a firearm kept in the home, there were 1.3 accidental deaths, 4.6 criminal homicides, and 37 suicides involving firearms."
One drawback to this study is that it was geographically restricted to King County, Washington. We can use those VPC numbers from earlier to come up with a nationwide version of these statistics.
In 2010, there were 230 justifiable homicides versus 8,275 criminal homicides and 19,392 gun suicides. According to these nationwide numbers, statistically speaking, a person is 84x more likely to use their gun to kill themself, and 36x more likely to use it commit a criminal homicide, than they are to use their gun in a justified, defensive homicide. And CDC data from EverytownResearch.org shows that there's almost 500 accidental gun deaths each year, meaning you're over 2x more likely to have somebody accidentally killed by your gun than you are to use it in a defensive homicide.
Please explain to me how it still makes rational sense to own a gun after seeing these numbers.
The Buckeye Firearms Association tries and fails miserably to debunk the statistics presented in that Kellerman & Reay study:
"The 1986 Kellerman study, the source of the famous '43 to 1' ratio, is deceptive in several ways. . . . Of the 398 'firearm-related deaths' included in the study, the vast majority (333, or, 84%) were suicides. . . . When only the criminal homicides are considered, rather than including suicides and accidents, the '43 to 1' ratio disappears, and the ratio is far less dramatic, more like '4.5 to 1.'"
Ok, first off, the study itself isn't deceptive at all, because even in the abstract, they provide a clear breakdown of the different sources of gun deaths that contribute to the 43:1 ratio. You can hardly accuse them of obscuring the very statistics that they make the centerpiece of their conclusion.
But ok, if we discount suicides, we find that using the 1986 King County data, people are 4.5x more likely to use their gun in a criminal homicide than a defensive homicide. How, exactly, does this support your position? "Haha! People are only... five times more likely to commit homicide using their gun than they are to kill somebody legitimately defending themself with it. Whattaya think about that?"
Uh, I think it kind of proves our point—not yours: that gun ownership is a net loss to the person owning the gun.
Why would we discount suicides, though? What's with this eagerness that gun advocates have to casually brush aside the alarmingly high number of gun suicides in this country? They're very quick to point out that of the 36,000 or so American gun deaths each year, almost 2/3s of these—around 22,000—are caused by suicide, compared against the 13,000 or so caused by homicide.
Ok, and what's your point? The end result here is the exact same: a person has been killed by a gun. The huge number of gun suicides each year is a key part of the gun control debate, and to brush it off as some sort of irrelevancy is completely unjustified.
"Well," you might say, "even if we got rid of all guns, these people would just find another way to kill themselves, so you can't blame these suicides on guns!" This is just not true; guns are a uniquely effective method of killing oneself. As Everytown Research writes in a 2019 report of theirs:
"Most people who attempt suicide do not die – unless they use a gun. Across all suicide attempts not involving a firearm, less than 5 percent will result in death. But for gun suicides, those statistics are flipped: approximately 85 percent of gun suicide attempts end in death. And the vast majority of all those who survive do not go on to die by suicide. This suggests that a reduction in suicide attempts by firearm would result in an overall decline in the suicide rate. Given the unique lethality of firearms as a means of suicide, addressing firearm suicide is an essential element of any strategy to reduce gun violence in this country."
Not only are guns much more lethal than other means of committing suicide, but they're also much more likely to be used impulsively in moments of extreme emotional distress.
If you're gonna try to kill yourself by taking a bunch of pills, after taking them, you're gonna have a decent amount of time to reflect before they take effect, potentially allowing you to change your mind, induce vomiting, and call the paramedics once you realize the true gravity of what you've just done.
If you're gonna try to hang yourself, it takes a solid amount of work to get it done: First you have to decide what material you're gonna use to hang yourself with; then you have to figure out how to actually tie it into some sort of noose-like configuration; then you have to find something to hang yourself off of that will support your weight. This is like a half-a-day DIY project right here.
You're like: "Fuck this; I'll just kill myself later. This is way too much work." I mean, by the time you're halfway done with it—after the trip to Lowe's and all the time spent moving around and working with your hands—you're probably gonna end up channeling that momentum into something productive like installing some curtains or trying to fix the lawnmower!
Killing yourself with a gun, however, is as simple as picking it up, pointing it at your skull, and pulling the trigger. It can literally be done in a single second. No preparation is required, and once you pull the trigger, that's it: you're not gonna have any time to reflect and change your mind; you pull the trigger and you're instantly killed.
"Well," you might say, "we can lower the suicide rate in other ways. It's not like access to guns is the only contributing factor."
Very true. But how many of these suicide reduction measures does the conservative seriously support? Let's take the most obvious one: increased funding for our mental health care system. I can't recall seeing too many conservatives clambering for their space at the podium to loudly call for such a thing; it's generally the conservatives who are trying to reduce health care funding.
I remember seeing a Tweet about this that I was unable to track down again, but it went something like this:
Conservative: "We don't have a gun problem in this country; we have a mental health problem."
Me: "So what you're saying is that we should increase funding for mental health care."
Ron Placone made a similar point in a Tweet of his:
"'It's not a gun issue, it's a mental health issue' say the people who want to do nothing about either one"
Look, maybe there genuinely are some brilliant conservative policy ideas that I just haven't heard in this area, but the suicide reduction measures I hear them advocate tend to be these very vague, immaterial ideas like focusing more on the family, developing a greater sense of community, finding your purpose in life—things that very well might cause suicides to decline, but these aren't really actionable policy items; they're more just ephemeral concepts.
Going on TV and vaguely saying that people should develop a greater sense of community doesn't really accomplish anything; you're basically just giving people advice. Increasing funding for mental health care, on the other hand, will actually have a tangible impact.
The Buckeye Firearms Association goes on in their article to write the following:
". . . the fallacy underlying [this argument] . . . is the idea that people are all at equal risk for becoming a perpetrator of crime, and lack only a deadly weapon. If a person is stable, and not suicidal, and not prone to extreme violence, their chances of becoming involved in 'firearm-related death' will be far lower than the Kellerman '43 to 1 risk ratio' would suggest. Persons with these risk factors are not only more likely to abuse guns to harm themselves or others, but they probably can't be trusted with knives, either."
Yeah, obviously this 43:1 risk ratio is a statistical average—and realistically speaking, individuals are going to vary in how prone they are to die in such a way—but couldn't you make this same point about any statistic?
This is the classical logical mistake of assuming that you don't need to worry about the things that other people might be affected by: "Yeah, I'll try this drug, and what's there to worry about? I'm not stupid enough to become a drug addict"; "It's ok if I send this text while driving because I'm just gonna briefly glance down, and I'm also a much better driver than the people around me"—he says as he's bobbing and weaving between lanes while going 20 miles over the speed limit in the rain while he's drunk and cleaning his shotgun while driving with his knees.
"Well, I'm not the type to kill myself!", yeah, isn't that what basically every person says before they become suicidal? Perhaps your feelings might change after something truly devastating happens in your life, like your wife dies or you lose your shiniest gun?
It's a well-established psychological fact that people tend to overestimate their own intelligence, competency, and responsibility, and I'm sure that many of the gun owners who committed homicide or suicide with their firearm, at one time, would've made the very same arguments about how they're responsible enough to not use it in those ways. I mean, sure, some people are probably self-aware enough to not trust themself with a gun, but as Evan and Devin point out in their Slate article, the people operating with this "it could never happen to me" mentality are oftentimes "tragically mistaken."
The BFA also says that people with these risk factors "probably can't be trusted with knives, either," again, completely overlooking the uniquely and instantaneously effective nature of using a gun to kill yourself.
"Guns, knives, suffocating yourself with a plastic bag... at the end of the day, what's the difference? It's all the same thing." No, I'm sorry, the data shows that it's actually not.
The BFA goes on to write that:
". . . the likelihood of being injured accidentally can be decreased further by training in safe gun handling."
Here we might actually have a point of agreement: Let's pass laws which say that before you can own a gun, you must first undergo an extensive period of training and education about proper gun safety. Somehow I suspect that many right-wingers would be viscerally opposed to such regulations: "Uh, I don't think so, liberal! Those regulations would be a disgusting infringement on my 2nd Amendment right to buy a shotgun from the grocery store!"
I went on a trip to Arkansas a few years ago and they legitimately were selling guns at the grocery store. At the grocery store.
"Let's see here, I got the eggs, milk, bread—ah, fuck, I almost forgot the 12-gauge shotgun!"
Cashier: "Paper or plastic sir?"
"Oh, don't worry, I brought my own bags today: My own body bags, that is! *shotgun pump sound*"
They're like: "Yeah, that's kinda weird, man. Why do you have those with you? Do you just like, carry those around all day or what?"
They do make another halfway-decent point in their article:
"Assessing the effectiveness of gun use against criminals as 'number of criminals killed' (as the Kellerman study does) is an extraordinary presumption as well, since law enforcement officers aren't judged by such a restrictive standard. Why isn't 'criminals deterred' or 'crimes completed' or even 'criminals wounded or apprehended' a legitimate means of measuring defensive effectiveness?"
That's a fair point, and maybe if we used these less restrictive metrics, we'd find that even when criminals aren't killed by homeowners, they're oftentimes injured or scared away from committing what would have been a heinous act.
But the whole idea here is to use a consistent metric, and comparing justified killings against criminal homicides provides us with an overall cost-benefit analysis of using guns to defend yourself versus having guns criminally used against you. You could also make the reverse point and say that only looking at criminal gun homicides overlooks the many instances of criminals using a gun to commit some crime but not actually using it to kill the victim. The key to any comparison is to use consistent measurements, and doing so with gun deaths leads to the clear conclusion that you're much more likely to be harmed by guns than you are to benefit from them.
So contrary to what conservatives argue, the "more guns = less death" argument does not stand up to scrutiny. People who own guns are much more at risk of being killed or killing themselves with a gun than people without guns—and the risks of gun ownership far outweigh the meager protective benefits against criminals. Whether you're looking at developed countries or strictly within the United States, you find that a higher firearm ownership rate correlates with both a higher homicide and suicide rate.
The suicide substitution argument is refuted by the fact that guns are much more deadly than other suicide means, instantaneously effective, and much more prone to be used impulsively in a moment of despair. The graphs that conservatives use to support their position on this issue compare starkly different countries and also use misleading metrics that don't capture more significant trends. When you take a deeper look at this question and look past the superficial, kindergarten-level analysis that the Ben Shapiros of the world present to us, you reach a very different conclusion.