New findings are presented showing that a gun in the home increases risks of residents being shot to death by 3~4 orders of magnitude more than it is likely to stop a crime. Also, during attempts of self defense, 2 out of 3 firearm fatalities are accidental killings of family or friends, rather than of criminal aggressors. Additional data on domestic violence is presented.

Guns are More Dangerous to Owners than to Criminals
Guns are More Dangerous to Owners than to Criminals
Please also see the more recent priomised article on this site, Trends in Causes of Firearm Fatalities. It finds ~6x as many killed in accidents from attempted self defense than killed in mass shootings in this year, by fully cited government data. Also, not only is the number killed in mass shootings small compared to those being killed by accident in attempted self defense, but also, by best linear projection, homicides due to mistakes in self defense will exceed those from mass shootings until at least 2023, even though the rate of increase in mass shootings is much larger.

Justified Self Defense

If one follows the news, one is far more likely to see articles such as these, rather than articles about a heroic white-hatted vigilante saving the damsel in distress by shooting down the black-hatted bad guy;

From which one may project that perhaps a third of all accidental deaths are due to attempts at self defense. But let's put aside gruesome accounts of accidents such as these, and consider the actual statistics as to how often a home resident is killed, rather than the bad guy.

Scientific Studies

Despite attempts to block the research by the NRA, there are now numerous peer-verified studies showing that guns are more dangerous to their owners than others:

Finding Reference
Home residents with a gun in the home are 2.7x more likely to die of homicide "Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home," New England Journal of Medicine, 7 October 1993.
For every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides. "Injuries and deaths due to firearms in the home," Trauma, 1998.
Guns in the home are used more often to frighten intimates than to thwart crime. Other weapons are far more commonly used against intruders than are guns. "'In the safety of your own home': results from a national survey on gun use at home.," Soc. Sci. Med., January 2000.
Most criminals are shot when they are victims of robberies, assaults and crossfires. Virtually none report being wounded by a 'law-abiding citizen.' "When criminals are shot: A survey of Washington, DC, jail detainees," Med Den Med, June 2000.
Firearms are used far more often to frighten and intimidate than they are used in self-defense "The relative frequency of offensive and defensive gun uses: results from a national survey," Violence Vict., Fall 2000.
Home residents with a gun in the home are twice as likely to die from a homicide in the home, and 30x more likely to die of suicide, regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home "Guns in the home and risk of a violent death in the home: findings from a national study," Epidemiology, 2004.
Adolescents are far more likely to be threatened with a gun than to use a gun in self-defense. "Gun threats against and self-defense gun use by California adolescents," Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med., April 2004.
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 "Private guns, public health," David Hemenway, 2007.
Living in a home where guns are kept increases an individual's risk of death by homicide by 40%~170% "Guns, fear, the Constitution, and the public's health," New England Journal of Medicine, 3 April 2008.
In high-density urban areas, individuals in possession of a gun are 4.5x more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession, even after adjusting for confounding factors. Among gun assaults where the victim had at least some chance to resist, the likelihood of being shot for those in possession of a gun increased to 5.5x. "Investigating the link between gun possession and gun assault," Journal of Public Health, November 2009.
The presence of a firearm in the home, according to meta-analysis of 16 studies, triples risk of suicide and doubles the risk of homicide. "The accessibility of firearms and risk for suicide and homicide victimization among household members: a systematic review and meta-analysis" Ann Intern Med., 6 May 2014.
A gun is more likely to be used to kill or injure an innocent person in the home than a threatening intruder. "Statistics on the dangers of gun use for self defense," Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 11 May 2015.

NRA's Attempt to Stop Further Research

The first article in 1993 finding the dangers of guns to the gun owners was funded by the national Center for Disease Control (CDC). It received considerable media attention.

The Kellerman Data which Outraged the NRA in 1993
The Kellerman Data which Outraged the NRA in 1993

The NRA responded by campaigning for the elimination of the center that had funded the study, the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention ("Gun violence research: History of the federal funding freeze," American Psychological Association, February 2013). The center itself survived, but the "1996 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Bill" (Government Publishing Office 1996), commonly called the "Dickey amendment" after its author, mandated that "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control."

While this language did not explicitly ban research on gun violence, Congress reduced the CDC budget by $2.6 million (the amount the CDC had invested in firearm injury research the previous year). Despite a number of efforts to repeal the act, which the author himself has since stated to be wrong ("Ex-Rep. Dickey regrets restrictive law on gun violence research," NPR, 9 October 2015), the decrease in funding has remained at 96% below its formal levels ("Access denied: how the gun lobby is depriving police, policy makers, and the public of the data we need to prevent gun violence," Mayors against illegal guns, January 2013).

NRA's Attempts to Disprove the Findings

In efforts to discredit the Kellerman findings, the NRA attempted to fund a number of scientific studies to disprove its findings. Only one study by an independent research center attempting to disprove Kellerman's work is public, and there are no publicly published studies attempting to disprove Kellerman from Universities.

The single study supporting the NRA view, "National case-control study of homicide offending and gun ownership" (Hogan, hosted on, May 1999) was extremely critical of Kellerman's article in every way possible, particularly the control-group methodology. Hogan's paper is stated as the scientific reason for withdrawal of funding from the CDC by other pro-gun media ("Why Congress stopped gun control activism at the CDC," The Hill, 30 November 2015), even though Hogan's paper was published 3 years after the funding was withdrawn.

Counter-Response to Hogan's Assertions

Notwithstanding, Hogan claims the Kellerman experiment uses a 'case-control' method that is exclusive to epidemiology, and therefore flawed. In fact, the case-control method is standard scientific method, as a type of observational study which has simply been defined with a different categorization in epidemiology. It is exactly the same form of argument that people unfamiliar with science use to try and disprove global warming, and by end up having to say the 2nd law of thermodynamics was wrong in lack of other cause to explain observed variances.

Scientifically, to disprove the hypothesis in these research cases, the critics have to conduct the same experiment and show the results are different with different parameters for the control group, indicating a different causation to explain the variance. Hogan's 1999 study (cited in the prior paragraph) included a new research study that claimed to disprove Kellerman, while making a series of highly critical remarks about Kellerman in every way possible. First, the remarks are totally unsubstantiated, as the Kellerman study was for homicides in the home only, whereas the Hogan study, which claims to refute it directly, was for ALL homicides. Nowhere in the entire Hogan article is that difference actually noted. Second, the Hogan study uses prior convicts as subjects to disprove the Kellerman study, who are demonstrably more likely to use weapons outside the home. Hogan does not untaint the data for that parameter. See also "Contradictions of the Kleck Study" (Virginia Center for Public Safety, undated).

Guns only Deter 0.14% of Thefts

According to the NRA, guns prevent 2.5 million crimes a year ("Gun and self-defense statistics that might surprise you -- and the NRA," Los Angeles Times, 19 June 2015). This number, 2.5 million, is the most frequently stated reason to own firearms.

The Defensive Justification Claim: 2.5 million
The Defensive Justification Claim: 2.5 million

On the other hand, according to the Department of Justice, victims in homes defend their property with guns 20,000 times/year, and defend themselves from street crime 47,000 times per year ("Firearm violence, 1993-2011," Bureau of Justice Statistics, 7 May 2013). The study fully states the compensated range and limits of the results.

Self Protective Behaviors, by type of Crime, 2007-2011
Self Protective Behaviors, by type of Crime, 2007-2011

The NRA number of 2.5 million (100 times more than the Department of Justice) is provided by--you guessed it--the NRA's old friend Kleck (again hosted on guncite, "Armed resistance to crime: the prevalence and nature of self-defense with a gun," 1995). As usual, both sides of the debate accuse the other of deliberately falsifying data. Kleck claims the Department of Justice data are deliberately understated, because they do not include all types of crime, and only include reported incidents. Meanwhile, Kleck obtained his data by telephone interviews, often late at night, from individuals who may be drunk or under drugs. Kleck only interviewed the oldest man in the household. Kleck included attacks on animals and birds as acts of using a gun in self defense. And Kleck included using guns against police officers too. It is difficult for Kleck himself to claim the Department of Justice is deliberately biased, but assuming he is right, then: (a) gun owners always carrying their guns whenever they are victims of crime; (b) gun owners are ten times more likely to be in a crime than anyone else; (c) gun owners do not themselves exaggerate at all, even if drunk or under influence of drugs; (d) animals are criminals; (e) women carry guns as frequently as men, and (f) women are crime victims the same amount as men. See also:

We prefer whatever bias the Department of Justice generates by only including numbers for reported crime, which actually is not as significant for this particular survey, because it is looking at proportional amounts of total reported theft, compared to reported successful deterrence of theft with firearms. By its account, victims in the home threaten or attack with a firearm 20,600 times/year, out of a total of 2.4 million thefts when the gun owner was home during the crime (we know from homicide data, they killed the thief one out of eight times). That is, victims successfully used a gun as a deterrent for 0.847% of all crimes when the victim was actually home, and for 0.14% of property crime altogether. As we are looking at the proportions, the lower count is not pertinent, except for any variation across a larger set that it does not represent, and prior scientific studies indicate the bias would be to over-represent the use of force. As we are looking at the total affect of crime reduction, compared to the total risk to the victim and other residents of the home, the latter 0.14% number is the pertinent value.

Hide LIne Numbers
  1. 84495500 /* Total# Property Crimes                          */
  2.    103000 /* #Crimes resisted with guns                      */
  3. 0.00122:1 /* Odds that gun stops crime in home               */
  4.     1.4:1 /* Min. increased odds of resident death with gun  */
  5.    30.0:1 /* Max. increased odds of resident death with gun  */
  6.  1148.0:1 /* Min. odds of resident death over stopping crime */
  7. 24610.0:1 /* Max. odds of resident death over stopping crime */

Gun owners should assess whether a 0.14% reduction of theft, due to firearm deterrence, is worth a 140%-3000% higher risk of fatality to home residents, before choosing to keep a gun in the home.

A gun in the home increases risks of residents being shot to death by 3~4 orders of magnitude more than it is likely to stop a crime.

Another study found an estimated 258,460 incidents of firearm defense between 1987 and 1990, with an annual mean of 64,615. Victims used firearms in 0.18% of all crimes recorded by the survey and in 0.83% of violent offenses. These figures are for all acts of self defense, including both guns in the home and in street crime. This equated to two times out of 1,000 criminal incidents (0.2%) that occurred in this period, including criminal incidents where no guns were involved at all. Of the times that guns were used in self-defense, 71% of the crimes were committed by strangers, with the rest of the incidents evenly divided between offenders that were acquaintances or persons well known to the victim. In 20% of the self-defense incidents, the guns were used by police officers ("The incidence of defensive firearm use by US crime victims, 1987 through 1990," Am J Public Health, December 2994).

Combining the above study with the necessary other data from the FBI, CDC, and census bureau provides the following results:

Hide LIne Numbers
  1. 46,319 /* Total homicides, 1987-1990 (FBI)          */
  2.      11,589 /* Mean annual homicides 1987-1990           */
  3.       2,111 /* 2014 homicides due to crime, extrapolated */
  4.       8,124 /* 2014 total homicides                      */
  5.       30.0% /* Percent homicides due to crime            */
  6.       3,487 /* Annual homicides due to drime             */
  7. 143,995,448 /* Total crimes 87-90                        */
  8.  35,998,862 /* Annual total crimes                       */
  9.    0.00969% /* Percent crime resulting in homicide       */
  10.      0.144% /* Percent crime prevented by citizen gun    */
  11.  .00000139% /* Percent citizen stopped homicide with gun */
  12. 32895, 33989, 34776, 37155 /* firearm deaths 1987-90(CDC)*/
  13. 242M, 244M, 246M, 249M     /* US population, 1987-90     */
  14. 245,807,500 /* Mean US population annually               */
  15.      34,703 /* Mean firearm deaths annually              */
  16.       .014% /* Percent deaths from firearms              */
  17.     1,016:1 /* odds of death rather than prevention      */

The above study therefore indicates a gun owner is one thousand times more likely to die from a gun than from preventing a homicide (of himself or the attacker) during a crime, for ALL crimes, and not just those occurring in the home. The odds of a gun in the home killing a home resident, rather than stopping any crime, are significantly higher. While the Kleck study reports more incidents prevented with a gun, it also counts more incidents as crime than the Department of Justice, so the results could be slightly lower, but not much, and considering the other factors in its numerical inflation, it does not appear to contradict these results.

Other research has shown that firearms have been shown to be effective in reducing loss of property, but there is no evidence that firearms reduce risk of injury during an attempted theft, rape or personal assault ("Does owning a gun make you safer?," Los Angeles Times, 4 August 2015). The most effective deterrent is to run away.


This investigation is still initial. and over the next year, I hope to provide something more substantive. First, this table shows firearm fatalities over 10 years (for complete data sources, see "Trends in Causes of Firearm Fatalities," Yofiel, January 2016). Involuntary acts cause an average of 11% of all fatalities, and the number is rising.

Firearm Fatality Causes
Firearm Fatality Causes

"Kids accidentally shot people 5 times a week this year on average" (Newminer, 31 December 2015) reports on Everytown Safety's numbers, but pro-gun advocates claim this is a 'bias leftist organization that can't be trusted. "Gun violence archive, summary ledger 2014" stated there were 1,583 total reported cases of deaths and injuries from 'self defense,' and 1,601 cases of 'accidents.' Its figures for 'home invasion' include both cases of crime and domestic violence (of known cases of domestic disputes, these are most frequently angry men attacking wives or ex-girlfriends, but in many cases the attacker does not reveal the exact nature of the relationship), so more work needs to be done to define these proportions in the categorical context here defined.

For deeper analysis, the journalistic investigation by Daily Kos, provided detailed summaries of 44 reported accidents in one week ("Sometimes I'm amazed there's anyone left alive in the United States at all. GunFAIL CLXXIII" (Daily Kos, 29 January 2016). For one week in 2015, 6 of the 44 listed events were known to be accidental killings due to self defense, and the circumstances of 12 are unspecified. Data on justified self-defense homicides for 2015 is not yet available, so assuming the same rate as for 2014, when there were 442 justified self-defense homicides.

Hide LIne Numbers
  1. 44     /* #Accidents documented in 1 week      */
  2.    6     /* #Caused by accidents in self defense */
  3.   12     /* #Unsolved                            */
  4. (6 + 6/(44-12)*12) * 365/7 /* Projected annually */
  5. 430.18   /* Annual accidents in self defense     */
  6. 236      /* Annual justified self defense, 2015  */
  7. 64.6%    /* percent accidents in self defense    */

So, generally speaking from this dataset, and conservatively rounding down the estimate:

65% of those killed from attempts at self defense are home residents, rather criminal aggressors

NRA's Response

The NRA states "Firearms are involved in a very small percentage of accidental deaths, among children and adults alike. Our accident statistics section provides accidental and firearm-related death numbers, per capita rates and trends for the U.S., the states and the District of Columbia, from 1986 to the most recent year available from the National Center for Health Statistics" ("," NRA-ILA, undated). However, the unlinked 'accident statistics' section on the NRA-ILA site, found only by global site search, currently returns blank pages. On the topic of safety, the NRA sells its training programs rather than providing direct observations and recommendations.

Gun Storage and Smart Gun Technology

There is ongoing debate about whether storage and smart-gun technology actually makes guns safer. "Guns in the home and risk of a violent death in the home: findings from a national study" (Epidemiology, 2004) found that gun storage lockers had no statistical effect on improving gun safety. The NRA's position is, generally speaking, that electronics and other such advanced technologies are more likely to go wrong when the gun is needed, rather than prevent accidents. Manufacturers have attempted in the past to create advanced smart-gun technologies, but have dropped the products for reasons that are disputed. "Can tech really disrupt gun violence?" (San Francisco Chronicle, 9 January 2016; if unable to access, see "Can Silicon Valley Innovate an End to Gun Violence?" Government Technology) reports on start-ups working on hi-tech gun safety techniques at the time of the President's Executive order seeking increased funding for smart-gun technology. More startups may be expected.

Domestic Violence

Besides the cases of accidents, there are also numerous studies indicating that the presence of guns greatly increases the risk of homicide due to domestic violence.

  • Between 1976 and 2005, a third of female murder victims were killed by an intimate (spouse, ex-spouse, or boyfriend). More than two-thirds of victims were killed by firearms. Girlfriend victims were killed by guns 56 percent of the time ("Intimate Partner Violence in the United States," The Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007).
  • Even in mass shootings, a current spouse, former spouse, intimate partner, or other family member was killed in 57% of 107 surveyed ("American women are 11 times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other developed countries," Everytown for Gun Safety, 14 June 2014).
  • The below chart (from this link, associated with the article "Killings by Utah police outpacing gang, drug, child-abuse homicides," Salt Lake Tribune, 23 November 2014) shows 51% of gun homicides in Utah are for domestic, family, or child abuse; but the total also includes 15% in acts of police suppression, and out of the remaining 85%, less than one in ten are the gang-related incidents which gun advocates cites as the main cause homicide. It isn't known what proportion of police actions were in response to domestic violence, so it is very fair to say over half of all gun homicides are by people who intimately know each other.

Over Half all Gun Homicide is from Domestic, Family, or Child Abuse
Over Half all Gun Homicide is from Domestic, Family, or Child Abuse

Some claim there is a greater amount of gun-violence crime than from domestic abuse in inner cities, so the above state data is inapplicable. However, an inner-city study put homicides from domestic abuse and familicide much higher, at 76%.

  • From that study, the Left Chart further indicates most gun homicides are by younger men killing women whom they know ("Homicide," The Asian Pacific Institute on Gender Based Violence, 2013).
  • The Right Chart puts homicides with gun violence at five times likely in the presence of a gun, based on FBI data ("More gun laws could be the 'beginning to the end' of domestic violence," Connecticut Mirror, 26 August 2014).

Domestic Homicide is Mostly Young Men Killing Women they Know, and 5x more Likely in Gun Presence
Domestic Homicide is Mostly Young Men Killing Women they Know, and 5x more Likely in Gun Presence

The following chart is for homicides by relationship from the FBI homicide database itself ("Expanded Homicide Data," FBI Uniform Crime Reports, 2015). Only 12.4% of all homicides are known to be killings of strangers, 43.6% are people killing others they know, and the remainder are uncertain. By projection from known data into unknown, 61% of all homicides are people killing people they know (+/-9% with CI 0.5).

FBI Data: most homicides are people killing people they know
FBI Data: most homicides are people killing people they know

NRA's Response

The NRA counters that guns still prevent crime, and that gun-control legislation is pointless as it won't reduce domestic-violence fatalities (and suicide fatalities, as described in ("Suicide and firearms," Yofiel, January 2016).

Guns Prevent Crime

Guns are still more likely to injure or kill a resident in the home than to prevent a criminal from theft or hurting you. If you are concerned about theft, buy insurance. If you are concerned about your own safety, do not keep a gun in the home.

Aggressors will use other Weapons

The second allegation made by the NRA is that gun control is pointless, because aggressors will use other weapons. Putting aside the fact that such a view negates the need for guns altogether anyway, here is the scientific information on violence with other weapons compared to firearms.

The propensity to use guns, as opposed to other weapons, varies between 67% and 75% in different studies

  • According to "Domestic Violence & Firearms Policy Summary" (Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 11 May 2014), domestic violence assaults involving a firearm are 12 times more likely to result in death than those involving other weapons or bodily force. Compared to knives or other cutting instruments, the involvement of a gun increased the risk of death by 3 times and compared to other weapons and bodily force, risk of death increased 23 times if a gun was involved.
  • The left chart from "Crime Justice Trend Reports" (Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, 2009) shows a typical mid-range value. However, with respect to violence cost, the likelihood of weapons violence leading to permanent disability or death is much higher than for any other weapon. Permanent disability and death are more expensive for taxpayers by a factor of 10, and those outcomes are more likely with guns than other weapons by a factor of 10. So by reducing amount of gun violence, then even when attackers use other weapons, the total violence cost declines a hundredfold.
  • The right chart shows the most common catalytic component in murder/suicide is the use of a firearm (from the Violence Policy Center). Only 9% of women victims in murder/suicides were killed with other means than a gun ("Rush Limbaugh Dismisses Guns' Role In Domestic Violence Deaths," Media Matters for America, 12 December2012).

~70% of Homicides are with Guns, mostly Handguns
~70% of Homicides are with Guns, mostly Handguns

From the above, and from "Suicide and firearms" (Yofiel, January 2016), it is definitely fair to say that death is more likely to result from a gun than other weapon in 9 out of 10 cases.

The propensity of evidence is clearly that removal of the gun from the home reduces risk to the residents far more than it presents any risk to criminals. The issue for the reasonable person to consider is whether the presence of a firearm in the home provides any sufficient deterrent to warrant the demonstrated greater risk to the home residents than to external aggressors.

The Best New Gun Control Law

My simple suggestion, from the above data, is that those with history of domestic violence or suicidal tendencies not be allowed to keep handguns in the home. They could keep rifles at home, and could still keep handguns in lockers at sporting ranges. As long-barrel guns only have a 4% incident of usage in all firearm fatalities (see "A Benthamite Solution to Gun Control," Yofiel, 2015), simply keeping a handguns out of the home alone would be a substantial preventive measure.

State Exceptions to Lautenberg

Although this is meant to the case now ("Lautenberg Amendment of 1996," Wikipedia Summary), it remains unenforceable due to 4th amendment protections, which need not be afforded to someone who has a criminal record ("Barbara LaWall: Keep firearms away from abusers," Arizona Daily Star, 28 December 2015). In fact, as the following map shows, many states cannot enforce this law ("These Abusers aren't Allowed to Own Guns. so why aren't States Removing them?," Melissa Jeltzen, Huffington Post, 14 October 2014).

Most States Can't Enforce the Lautenberg Amendment
Most States Can't Enforce the Lautenberg Amendment

Extending this protection to potential suicide victims too could halve gun violence cost. And indeed, California is about to do exactly what is suggested here. Its constitutionality has already been aired ("California gun seizure law unconstitutional? Gun control law Elliot Rodger Shooting Spree," Inquisitr, 30 December 2015). So battle is declared, in the face of which, the likelihood of improving the law so that domestic aggressors could still keep guns, as long as they are not in the house, seems rather remote.

What is most depressing is that the battle to save people's lives is announced as evil by those who directly benefit from blocking attempts to stop more death, and its resulting cost, already 13 times more than the entire gun manufacturing industry's revenue ("A Benthamite Solution to Gun Control, Yofiel, January 2016).



About the Author

I am a retired scholar and Master Freemason in The Wild of the 16th-century lodge of Devonshire (UK). I was born in Washington DC, studied philosophy and psychology at Oxford University, and now live in Sacramento, California. I am not paid for this work, and this is my personal website, which is named after the archangel of divine beauty. In the past, I worked to further pluralism and multinational cooperation to create a better life for all in Silicon Valley, California. I worked on specifications for the Pentium I (for Intel), the first 802.11 wireless internet protocol (for AT&T), the HTML/CSS/DOM interface for digital TV (for Comcast, Rogers, Shaw, and others), and the iPad microprocessor (for Apple). Prior to engineering work, I worked as a journalist in New York.

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