Why do so many people in the United States own guns? Ask many gun owners, and they’ll state their reason for keeping a firearm in the house simply enough: they want to be able to protect themselves and their families. Recent polls have confirmed that a majority of Americans believe that having a gun at home makes them safer.

But does keeping a gun at home really make you safer? Let’s take a look.

Gun proponents are fond of saying “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” But despite this mantra, guns are rarely used for self-defense in reality. A survey of over 14,000 people found that guns are used for self-protection in less than one percent of all crimes that take place in the presence of a victim. Those who do try to defend themselves with firearms are injured more often than those who use some other means of defense, such as running away or calling the police. This makes sense when you think about it; often those who own guns for personal protection are inexperienced and may not have proper training. Introducing a firearm to a highly charged situation can escalate an already volatile confrontation, and severe injury or worse can be the result.

Even in the absence of the type of dramatic encounter described above, the mere presence of a firearm in the home can lead to a range of tragic outcomes. These include suicides, homicides, and deadly accidents—especially accidents involving children and teens.

 Increased fatalities from suicide tops the list of dangers stemming from keeping guns at home. Having access to a firearm triples suicide risk. Experts characterize most suicides as impulsive, meaning they involve little preparation or premeditation. Further, survivors of suicide often don’t try to commit suicide again. Those who choose firearms as their means of suicide are more often successful in their attempts than those who choose other means. Put those factors together, and the deadliness of having a firearm at the ready when someone is overcome by a suicidal impulse becomes clear. Not having immediate access to a gun can mean the difference between life and death.

Gun ownership also greatly increases the risk of death and severe injury from domestic violence, much of which takes place in the home. Domestic violence victims are five times more likely to be killed if their abusers have access to a firearm. Bearing this out, states with high levels of gun ownership have been shown to have greater levels of domestic violence-related homicides than states with lower levels. It makes sense: guns are more lethal overall than other means of abuse. Remove guns from the home, and the person or people being abused are more likely to survive and eventually escape that abuse.

Finally, it stands to reason that the presence of a gun in a home increases the odds of a firearm accident in that home. Those odds increase further by factoring in the reality that the majority of gun owners with children do not store their weapons securely, meaning that they store their weapons loaded and/or unlocked. Even when warned, children often can’t resist picking up a found gun, playing with it, and sometimes even pointing it at a sibling or friend. Tragedy is too frequently the result of that behavior. Adults—especially adults inexperienced with firearms—make mistakes handling weapons at home, too. To take just one year as an example, in 2018 the Centers for Disease Control reported a total of 478 accidental gun deaths and 17,311 accidental gun injuries. Many of those occurred in the home.

Over the past year, American purchases of firearms have skyrocketed, and they show no sign of slowing: Americans purchased more than two million guns in January 2021, creating the second-highest one-month total on record. Experts have raised concerns that due to the COVID pandemic; many first-time gun buyers failed to learn safe-storage techniques or obtain proper training. The pandemic has also created widespread increases in incidences of depression, economic and emotional anxiety, and, many fear, domestic violence. Taken together, it’s a frightening combination—one that challenges more than ever the notion that guns in the home can serve as self-protection.

Guns at home are more likely to be harmful than beneficial. The truth is that they’re a liability in the home.

[1] Note that some gun owners keep guns for the purpose of hunting or other gun sports. Safety issues still apply.



Lopez G. Poll: most Americans say gun ownership increases safety. Research: nope. Vox. March 23, 2018. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/3/23/17155596/gun-ownership-polls-safety-violence

Moyer M W. Will a Gun Keep Your Family Safe? Here’s What the Evidence Says. The Trace. April 7, 2020. https://www.thetrace.org/2020/04/gun-safety-research-coronavirus-gun-sales/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web-Based Injury Statistics Query System (CDC WISQARS). Via Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Campbell JC et al. Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results from a Multisite Case Control Study. Am J Public Health 2003 July; 93(7): 1089–1097.

Denham H and Ba Tran Andrew. Fearing violence and political uncertainty, Americans are buying millions more firearms. The Washington Post. February 3, 2021.