States with More Gun Owners Have More Murders in the Home, Women Most Common Victims

Research suggests states with more gun owners have higher numbers of partners and family members killing each other in the home, with women in particular danger of being victims of violence.

Gun-related deaths in the U.S. are rising, and the authors of a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine wanted to examine the links between gun ownership and rates of domestic and non-domestic shootings. Statistics from 2017 show 39,773 people were killed by guns, with deaths among men up by 2 percent from 2016.

Researchers studied annual data on homicide rates in 50 states between 1990 and 2016, from the U.S. Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Report.

Firearm ownership in states ranged from 10.4 percent of households in Hawaii to 68.8 percent of Wyoming. More people in the west and south owned guns, while the northwest had the least. Compared to states in the lowest quartile of gun ownership, states in the top quartile showed a 64.6 percent higher incidence of domestic firearm homicide. The starkest figures came from the southern states.

9mm pistol, fun, firearm, muzzle, stock
Researchers have examined domestic and non-domestic homicides caused by firearms in the U.S. Getty

Lead investigator Aaron J. Kivisto, of the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Indianapolis, told Newsweek: "Research has consistently shown that states with higher levels of gun ownership tend to have higher rates of firearm homicide and suicide. What our findings suggest is that the increased risk of firearm homicide attributable to firearms isn't equally shared across all potential victims."

Kivisto said he was surprised to find that while around 1 in 4 homicide victims are women, they account for about 3 in 4 victims of intimate partner homicide.

"This tells us that an increased risk for homicide victimization associated with gun ownership has a disproportionate impact on women," said Kivisto.

"At the same time, our results also showed that the incidence of domestic homicide victimization increases for both men and women as gun ownership rates go up."

Kivisto said policymakers should be aware of the risks associated with firearms being kept in homes where there is domestic violence, and take steps to reduce victims' risk for homicide victimization by limiting access to firearms for domestic abusers.

"The narrative about gun ownership and personal protection tends to ignore the risks associated with firearm ownership, including the risks to others in the home. Gun owners should weigh up these perceived benefits and risks and engage in safe storage and other practices to reduce the risk of a domestic incident becoming fatal. "

Joe Street, an Associate Professor in History at the U.K.'s Northumbria University who did not work on the paper, told Newsweek: "Sadly, I wasn't terribly surprised by [the findings.]"

"I think this confirms what many of us suspect, in that gun ownership adds dangers within the home, particularly to women," said Street, a researcher in U.S. History.

"I'm imagining that many of the guns used in these homicides are owned by males in the household; that they are disproportionately used against women is a damning indictment," he said.

Street suggested the authors could have made their findings stronger by also looking at the extent to which guns are a factor but not the only factor in a killing.

"Can the authors go beneath the state level to the local level? This might bring into clearer focus the impact of poverty levels, education levels, etc. that also play into gun violence," he said.