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Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review
rates of suicide and gun ownership is nonexistent or very weak but there is a substantial association between gun ownership and homicide. These cross-country comparisons reflect the fact that the suicide rate in the United States ranks toward the middle of industrialized countries, whereas the U.S. homicide rate is much higher than in all other developed countries.
The committee cannot determine whether these associations demonstrate causal relationships. There are three key problems. First, as noted above, these studies do not adequately address the problem of self-selection. Second, these studies must rely on proxy measures of ownership that are certain to create biases of unknown magnitude and direction. Third, because the ecological correlations are at a higher geographic level of aggregation, there is no way of knowing whether the homicides or suicides occurred in the same areas in which the firearms are owned.
In summary, the committee concludes that existing research studies and data include a wealth of descriptive information on homicide, suicide, and firearms, but, because of the limitations of existing data and methods, do not credibly demonstrate a causal relationship between the ownership of firearms and the causes or prevention of criminal violence or suicide. The issue of substitution (of the means of committing homicide or suicide) has been almost entirely ignored in the literature. What sort of data and what sort of studies and improved models would be needed in order to advance understanding of the association between firearms and suicide? Although some knowledge may be gained from further ecological studies, the most important priority appears to the committee to be individual-level studies of the association between gun ownership and violence. Currently, no national surveys on ownership designed to examine the relationship exist. The committee recommends support of further individual-level studies of the link between firearms and both lethal and nonlethal suicidal behavior.
Deterrence and Defense
Although a large body of research has focused on the effects of firearms on injury, crime, and suicide, far less attention has been devoted to understanding the defensive and deterrent effects of firearms. Firearms are used by the public to defend against crime. Ultimately, it is an empirical question whether defensive gun use and concealed weapons laws generate net social benefits or net social costs.
Defensive Gun Use
Over the past decade, a number of researchers have conducted studies to measure the prevalence of defensive gun use in the population. However, disagreement over the definition of defensive gun use and uncertainty over the