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Katz '14: The perils of gun ownership

This past summer James Holmes, a former graduate student in neuroscience at the University of Colorado, opened fire at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colo., murdering 12 people and wounding 58. 

Two months before this horrific tragedy, Holmes purchased a Glock 40 pistol at Gander Mountain, a store that sells guns and ammunition. He also bought 6,000 rounds of ammunition online and even body armor from eBay. All of Holmes's purchases were legal.

The shooting has brought the debate on gun laws back to the forefront of domestic politics and "is likely to renew pressure on lawmakers to pass legislation to prevent attacks like this in the future," wrote CBS News reporter Brian Montopoli. The Aurora shooting undoubtedly highlights the dangers of gun ownership, yet what the national conversation on gun control often excludes is the fact that simply possessing a gun is a danger in and of itself.

Gun rights advocates claim that people have the right to own arms for their defense. But owning a gun in the home sometimes proves more pernicious than protective - how does a person defend himself from his own armed hands?

Keeping a gun at home increases one's risk for suicide. While someone's motivation for owning weaponry could be to protect his family from harm, gun ownership can turn a "transient crisis into a permanent tragedy," according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The Brady Campaign highlights alarming statistics about the perils of gun ownership, such as that keeping a firearm at home increases the risk of suicide by a factor of three to five.

For those who believe owning a gun for defense purposes is a wise safety precaution, the Brady Campaign's numbers indicate otherwise. A gun in the home is 11 times more likely to be used in a completed or attempted suicide than to be employed to injure or kill in self-defense. And of these attempted suicides with a gun, more than 90 percent are fatal. In comparison, only three percent of suicide attempts with drugs or cutting result in death. Furthermore, "almost 50 percent of youth suicides are committed with guns."

Of the 33 percent of U.S. households that own guns, half do not lock up their weapons, including 40 percent of households with kids under age 18, according to the Brady Campaign .

In short, it is possible that without an accessible gun, tragedy could be avoided or delayed, and people could obtain the help they need. These numbers underscore the fact that we must discuss not only why gun possession threatens the security of our communities, but also why those who choose to possess guns put themselves and their families at risk.

Of course, these statistics might not hold much significance for those who seek protection against violence in their everyday lives. For example, Chicago resident Otis McDonald sued for the right to own a handgun in order to protect himself from the gangs and drug dealers in his neighborhood. In 2010 the Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. City of Chicago that the Second Amendment guarantees individuals the right to possess a handgun.

For McDonald, handguns may afford him protection against the violence in his neighborhood. I can understand and empathize with this viewpoint. McDonald simply sought peace of mind - does he not deserve that?

Yet individual gun ownership is only a temporary answer to the large problems, such as drug and gang violence, facing McDonald's community. Fighting guns with more guns will not the lower homicide rate or halt violence, and allowing individuals to possess weapons is not to be taken lightly. According to the Brady Campaign, 17,352 residents committed suicide with a firearm in 2007. How many would be alive today had a weapon not been within reach? Perhaps there is something inherently unnatural in owning certain types of lethal weaponry, or the burden is too much for some folks to handle in certain psychological or emotional states.                 

The national conversation on gun control needs to bring the issues surrounding individual gun ownership to the forefront. If possessing a gun in the home endangers its owners more than it protects them, then it is time to reexamine our right to keep and bear arms and focus on our right to security within our own homes.

 

 

Jaclyn Katz '14 is a political science concentrator and can be reached at jaclyn_katz@brown.edu.


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