Ernest Urvater: Owning a gun just increases
chances of being shot by gun

Last modified: Tuesday, April 01, 2014
To the editor:

Several weeks ago one of your monthly columnists, a doctor, wrote an article about buying his first gun and learning how to shoot it. He says: “A year ago my wife and I returned from vacation to discover that our house had suffered a break-in ... I began to worry about how I would protect the two of us if we had been home during an invasion. It was obvious that I couldn’t. I was motivated to get training in firearms, obtain my permit and I bought a gun.”

I, however, was alarmed. Having been burgled myself more than once, it has never occurred to me to buy a gun. So I Googled (try it yourself): “does owning a gun keep you safe?” Up popped lots of stuff. Here are some samples: Prof Charles Branas and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania examined (in 2009) the link between gun possession and gun assault. They compared 677 cases in which people were injured in a shooting incident with 684 people living in the same area that had not suffered a gun injury. The researchers matched these “controls” for age, race and gender. They found that those with firearms were about 4.5 times more likely to be shot than those who did not carry.

Prof David Hemenway of Harvard University’s School of Public Health has published academic articles in this area and found that such claims are rooted far more in myth than fact. While defensive gun use may occasionally occur successfully, it is rare and very much the exception. Actually owning and using a firearm hugely increases the risk of being shot. This is a finding supported by other studies in health policy, including several articles in the New England Journal of Medicine. The Branas study also found that for individuals who had time to resist and counter in a gun assault, the odds of being shot actually increased more than five-fold relative to an individual not carrying a gun.

How concerned should we be for the health and well-being of the doctor and his family, among others?

Ernest Urvater