Homicide Rates Higher in States with More Guns at Home

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Guns are used to kill two out of every three homicide victims in the United States, and new research shows that easy-access guns in the home make a difference. Homicide rates are highest in states where more households have guns, the national survey concludes.

The finding held even after taking into account socioeconomic status and gender.

"Our findings suggest that in the United States, household firearms may be an important source of guns used to kill children, women and men, both on the street and in their homes," said lead researcher Matthew Miller of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Gun states

To reach the findings that were released today, Miller and his colleagues examined survey data of household firearm ownership collected via a telephone survey of more than 200,000 respondents from all 50 states. The survey is part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's 2001 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. They combined homicide deaths over a three-year period, from 2001 to 2003, for each state.

They divided states into four groups, ranging from those with the highest household firearm ownership to the lowest. The analysis controlled for factors that could affect homicide rates, including socioeconomic status, urbanization, non-lethal crimes, unemployment, and alcohol consumption.

Respondents in about one in three American households reported owning a firearm.

“The southern states and the mountain states on average have higher gun ownership levels than most states in the northeast,” Miller said.

For instance, in Oregon, 40 percent of households have guns, and more than half of the homes in Alabama own guns. Compare that with Massachusetts, where some 12 to 13 percent of households reported firearm ownership.

Gun-related deaths

In the top firearm-household states, homicide rates were more than double the rates found for states in the lowest firearm group. Overall, the top-gun states showed homicide rates that were 60 percent higher than all other states.

Most women victims of homicide are killed by guns that were already in the home, while men tend to be killed outside of the home. From past studies, Miller said, women are more likely to be killed by people they know, such as ex-boyfriends or ex-spouses.

“Overall women are more likely to die in states where there are more guns [in homes],” Miller told LiveScience.

The study is detailed in the February issue of the journal Social Science and Medicine.

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Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.