NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 13, 2010

In Philadelphia, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, possessing a gun is strongly associated with getting shot.   Since "guns did not protect those who possessed them" epidemiologist Charles C. Branas and four co-authors conclude in the November "American Journal of Public Health," that people should rethink their possession of guns.

Branas and his colleagues investigated the possible relationship between being shot in an assault and possession of a gun at the time.  They enrolled 677 case participants that had been shot in an assault and 684 population-based control participants within Philadelphia, Penn., from 2003 to 2006, and found that "individuals in possession of a gun were 4.46 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession."

The researchers suggest several possible explanations for this association:

  • A gun may falsely empower its possessor to overreact, instigating and losing otherwise tractable conflict with similarly armed persons.
  • Along the same lines, individuals who are in possession of a gun may increase their risk of gun assault by entering dangerous environments that they would have normally avoided.
  • Alternatively, an individual may bring a gun to an otherwise gun-free conflict only to have that gun wrested away and turned on them.

According to Reason magazine, however, the one explanation the researchers do not mention is that people who anticipate violent confrontations -- such as drug dealers, frequently robbed bodega owners, and women with angry ex-boyfriends -- might be especially likely to possess guns, just as people likely who jump out of airplanes are especially likely to possess parachutes.

The authors acknowledge that they did not account for the potential of reverse causation between gun possession and gun assault -- that is, the possibility that a high risk of being shot causes gun ownership, as opposed to the other way around.

Source: Ronald Bailey, "Armed and Vulnerable?" Reason Magazine, February 2010.

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