The slaughter on Friday in Newtown, Conn., brought back to tragic life scientific data about the danger of firearm ownership long buried by the gun lobby. All three weapons used by Adam Lanza to murder his mother, 20 elementary school students, and 6 teachers before taking his own life were owned by his mother. They were an AR-15 type Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle and two semiautomatic handguns — a 10-millimeter Glock and a 9-millimeter Sig Sauer.
Part of why this tragedy should continue to make us sick until we have some semblance of gun control is because we were warned in a landmark 1993 study in the New England Journal of Medicine that gun ownership in and of itself is a huge risk factor for dying by the gun. In a study of three counties in Tennessee, Ohio, and Washington state, researchers from several universities found that occupants were nearly 3 times more likely to be killed in a homicide if guns were in the home.
The risk for women nearly quadrupled with a gun in the home. The vast majority of victims were — like Lanza's mother — killed by a relative or someone known to them. When the study was published, lead author Arthur Kellermann told the media, “The risks of keeping guns in the home substantially outweigh the potential benefits in terms of safety.’’ Kellermann added, “We did not find any evidence of a protective effect of gun ownership, even following forced entry into the home or actively resisting an assailant.’’
But the National Rifle Association defeated science, claiming the scientists were “looking at the wrong data set,” and then of course, threatening to defeat any politician who dared to have a sensible discussion.
Back when the study was published, the authors reminded readers that there had been other studies that showed that “a gun kept in the home is far more likely to be involved in the death of a member of the household than it is to be used to kill in self-defense.”
Contrary to the denial of the NRA, if we do not know what the right data set is after last week — 20 children dead — we never will.