Just a month after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, President Obama called for an assessment of the existing research on gun violence and recommendations for more studies. Now, that assessment is out, and it delves deeply into what research shows us about why gun violence happens in this country – and also into how well the defensive use of guns work.
Citing four separate studies between 1988-2004, the assessment from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council says crime victims who use guns in self-defense have consistently lower injury rates than victims who use other strategies to protect themselves (other strategies include stalling, calling the police or using weapons such as knives or baseball bats).
In the most recent of those studies, Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck and University of New Haven professor of criminal justice Jongyeon Tark, examined whether the defensive use of guns resulted in property loss, minor injury to a victim, or serious injury. Kleck and Tark found that using a gun reduced the risk of all three, and that injury resulted from self-protection with a gun in only 10 percent of cases.
The institute cautions, however, that further research on the subject is needed, and that the effectiveness of using a gun in self-defense varies by crime, circumstance, victim and offender.
Gun ownership has also generally been found to increase the risk of suicide and homicide, which "could cancel or outweigh the beneficial effects of defensive gun use," according to the institute.
But no matter the net benefit or risk, more people today believe that owning a gun will protect them. The assessment cites a 2013 Pew study that shows far more people today than in 1999 own guns for protection instead of hunting or other activities.