22 Times Less Safe?
Anti-Gun Lobby's Favorite
Spin Re-Attacks Guns In The Home

Posted on December 11, 2001

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Is a firearm in your home "22 times more likely" to be used to kill or injure a family member than to be used for protection? Or "43 times more likely?" How about "18 times more likely?" Anti-gun groups and politicians say it is, citing research by Arthur L. Kellermann, M.D.

Dr. Kellermann's dubious conclusions provide anti-gunners propaganda they use to try to frighten Americans into voluntarily disposing of their guns—in essence, to do to themselves what the anti-gunners have been unable to do to them by legislative, regulatory, or judicial means.

Kellermann admits to the political goal of his work, saying "People should be strongly discouraged from keeping guns in their homes." ("Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home," New England Journal of Medicine, Oct. 1993.) Anti-gun groups have seized upon his most recent attempt in this regard, a "study" from which the bogus "22 times more likely" risk-benefit ratio is derived. ("Injuries and Deaths Due to Firearms in the Home," Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection and Critical Care, Aug. 1998.) The study suffers numerous flaws common to previous Kellermann efforts, including the fact that it is a very small-scale survey of sample jurisdictions that are not representative of the country or even of one another.

Most significant, though, Kellermann severely understates defensive uses of guns, by counting only those in which criminals are killed or injured. Dr. Edgar A. Suter, writing in the Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia, explains the error in the context of an earlier Kellermann study, which compared family member deaths to killings of criminals: "The true measure of the protective benefits of guns are the lives saved, the injuries prevented, the medical costs saved, and the property protected—not the burglar or rapist body count. Since only 0.1% to 0.2% of defensive gun usage involves the death of the criminal, any study, such as this, that counts criminal deaths as the only measure of the protective benefits of guns will expectedly underestimate the benefits of firearms by a factor of 500 to 1,000." ("Guns in the Medical Literature—A Failure of Peer Review," March 1994, p. 134.)

Similarly, criminologist Gary Kleck notes, "More commonly, guns are merely pointed at another person, or perhaps referred to or displayed, and this sufficient to accomplish the ends of the user." (Targeting Guns, Aldine de Gruyter, 1997, p. 162.) Kleck's 1995 landmark survey of defensive gun uses found guns used for protection as many as 2.5 million times annually.  ("Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun," Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Fall 1995.)

Kellermann's "22 times more likely" study suffers yet another flaw: only 14.2% of criminal gun-related homicides and assaults he surveyed involved guns kept in the homes where the crimes occurred. With a similar sloppiness in his "43 times more likely" study, suicides (never shown to correlate to gun ownership) accounted for the overwhelming majority of gun-related family member deaths he pretended to compare to defensive gun uses.

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