What has happened is that the gun industry and gun lobby have successfully appealed to many citizens' sense of fear — fear that has fueled the largest increase in the sale of guns and ammunition in the gun industry's history.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the number of firearms manufactured annually in the U.S. has more than doubled in the last eight years. A 1994 survey showed that gun owners primarily bought guns for recreation and hunting. A similar 2016 survey showed that Americans now buy guns out of fear. Fear sells guns — lots of guns — and it feeds the gun-industry's lust for more sales and profits, while adding to the American death toll.
The truth that the gun lobby and gun industry do not want you to know is that you are not statistically safer with a gun. A gun is much more likely to be used in a suicide, domestic violence assault or unintentional shooting, or to be stolen and used in a violent crime, than it is to be used to protect family and property. Further, a home that has a gun is much more likely to be the scene of homicide or serious accident than is a home without guns. It is startling that more Utahns now die from guns than from car accidents.
Suicide rates have steadily increased over the past 15 years, especially in Utah. Means matter. Guns are responsible for more than half of all suicide deaths, and states such as Utah with higher gun ownership have higher suicide rates. According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, domestic-violence victims are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has access to a gun. These incidents also often claim the lives of intervening police officers.
Another report in Accident Analysis and Prevention shows that states with the highest percentage of guns in the home had nine times the rate of unintentional firearm deaths compared to states with the lowest gun levels. Many of these incidents involve children unintentionally shooting family members. Not only is this devastating for the loss of life, but also for the emotional toll it takes on surviving family members.
As for the recent Ohio State University stabbings, no one was killed. Had the assailant used a firearm, the result would surely have been more tragic. Most survivors of active assault situations will tell you that they would not have been safer carrying a firearm.
Easy access to firearms has made our country less safe for all of us. How to reduce the tragedies of gun violence? States that have enacted sensible gun laws, such as more rigorous background checks, longer waiting periods, safe storage and gun-proficiency requirements, have fewer gun deaths and injuries. Common-sense gun legislation does not infringe on the rights of responsible citizens and would save many American lives.
Nancy Farrar Halden is chairperson of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah and a member of the Utah Gun Safety Coalition.