Similar arguments animate the gun control debate. The ready availability of guns, we're told, is responsible for America's extremely high rates of gun crime and for the horrific mass shootings we've experienced in recent years. Possibly, but there are other nations with high rates of gun ownership, such as Switzerland and Israel, that have low rates of gun crime. In our own recent history, we know that many high schools hosted rifle teams and many had ranges in their buildings. Yet school shootings were exceedingly rare and mass shootings unheard of.
We are told that studies have shown that gun ownership does not make home owners safer, but that, on the contrary, having a gun in the home makes it much more likely that the homeowner will be shot by a family member. This claim rests chiefly on a study by Arthur Kellerman that compared 420 homicide victims with others living in the same neighborhood. As Prof. Gary Kleck observed, the subjects of the study lived in a crime-ridden neighborhood, and Kellerman did not control for membership in gangs or participation in the drug trade. Additionally, only 4.7 percent of the homicide victims were killed by spouses, lovers, other relatives or roommates using the gun that was kept at home. The overwhelming majority of the deaths were the result of guns brought into the home from elsewhere.
It's doubtless true that more guns in homes are correlated with more gun accidents, gun suicides and gun homicides. It's hard to find gun deaths in homes without guns. But there are no swimming pool deaths in homes without pools either. There is also no doubt that Americans defend themselves and others with guns quite frequently. Data are difficult to come by for complex reasons including reporting errors, varying state laws and even lying by gun owners. But when the CATO Institute studied news reports of defensive gun uses over an eight-year period ending in 2011, they found more than 5,000 documented instances of gun owners preventing mayhem (murder, rape, robbery and assault) with guns. Interestingly, they found only 11 cases in which the criminal was able to disarm the gun owner, but 227 cases in which the criminal was disarmed.
We can no more make guns disappear than we can uninvent nuclear weapons. The key in both cases is whose finger is on the trigger.