In the United States there are now somewhere between 280 million and 350 million guns, according to the Pew Research Center — that’s almost one gun for every person in the nation. Judges and legislators across the political spectrum recognize the constitutional right to bear arms. And gun and ammunition sales to private citizens are a significant part of a $15 billion industry that’s seeing plenty of growth.
What makes the gun industry so controversial, of course, is the ever-shifting debate about how to reconcile gun rights and public safety. Each year in this country, more than 30,000 people are killed by firearms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate — roughly 85 people per day. The United States has one of the highest rates of civilian gun ownership and one of the highest rates of firearm-related deaths per capita across developed countries around the world.
What’s more, a growing body of research suggests that simply owning a gun is correlated with an increased likelihood that you’ll be a victim of violence. A study published in 2015 in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that people who live in homes with firearms are over three times as likely to die from suicide and two times as likely to be a victim of homicide as those who don’t have access to firearms. The study analyzed the results of 16 other studies and found that in all but one, access to guns was linked to a higher probability of murder or suicide. In another study published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior, two Harvard researchers conducted a review of 26 studies on gun availability and homicide in multiple countries and found that most of them “are consistent with the hypothesis that higher levels of gun prevalence substantially increase the homicide rate.”
To be sure, the kinds of correlations shown in big social studies aren’t the same thing as a proven cause-and-effect relationship. Many in the gun industry including some gun manufacturers and organizations of gun owners like the National Rifle Association, “the premier firearms education organization in the world” — disagree sharply with conclusions like these. And Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, points to a different correlation: While gun ownership is now at an all-time high, the murder rate (in total, not just from firearms) is near an all-time low.
Still, many gun owners say that having a gun in the house makes them feel safe and empowered to confront threats. That sentiment was summed up by NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre, who said in an interview following the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting in December 2012 that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”