More guns lead to higher rates of firearm homicide — especially domestic ones.
New research reports on a unique and strong link between firearm ownership and rates of domestic homicides. Each 10% increase in household gun ownership rates led to a 13% increase in domestic firearm homicides, the authors write. Nondomestic firearm homicides also increased, but by far less (2% for every 10% increase in gun ownership rates).
“While personal protection is a commonly cited reason for owning a gun, our research shows that firearm ownership also confers significant risks to loved ones, as they are more likely to be killed if there is a gun in the household,” said lead investigator Aaron J. Kivisto, PhD, School of Psychological Sciences, University of Indianapolis.
“Our findings highlight the importance of firearm removal in protecting victims of domestic violence, the majority of whom are women.”
The team analyzed annual homicide rates in all US states between 1990 and 2016, separating them by the relationship between the victim and the offender (homicides of intimate partners, other family members, acquaintances, and strangers). The plan was to see whether state-level household gun ownership rates were associated with homicides of specific victim-offender relationships. Data was sourced from the US Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report.
There were significant variations across different states in the rate of family gun ownership, ranging from 10.4% to 68.8%. States in the south and west had the highest overall rates, whereas the Northeast region had the lowest rate of firearm ownership.
All in all, the team reports, states with higher rates of gun ownership had significantly higher rates of domestic firearm homicides. Nearly one in three of all the homicides the team analyzed was classified as domestic. Approximately half were classified as friends/acquaintances. Southern states had higher than average rates of domestic firearm homicide, while states in the northeast had lower than average rates.
“In states at the top quartile of household firearm ownership, there was a 64.6 percent increased incidence rate of domestic firearm homicide, relative to states in the lowest quartile of gun ownership. By contrast, these comparisons did not reveal significant differences for nondomestic firearm homicide rates,” explained Professor Kivisto.
The team says that their results showcase why we need more serious research on the role firearms play in the social and relational dynamics that lead to fatal gun violence. Previous research has shown that there is a link between state-level gun ownership and rates of firearm mortality, including suicides and homicides. This study shows that the risks of gun ownership on homicide rates are relatively specific to domestic homicides. The findings should help guide suggested avenues for future policy, practice, and research initiatives. Professor Kivisto noted.
“While some federal laws are in place that are aimed at reducing domestic firearm violence, not enough has been done to enforce them at the federal level. States that have enacted legislation to prohibit individuals at high risk of intimate partner violence from possessing firearms and requiring them to relinquish any they currently own, have a lower incidence of domestic firearm homicide.”
The paper “Firearm Ownership and Domestic Versus Nondomestic Homicide in the U.S.” has been published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.