“Our goal was to estimate the effect of household exposure to handguns on nonowners’ risk for dying by homicide,” the researchers wrote. “We were particularly interested in homicides occurring in or around the home because protecting one’s home is a major motivation for gun ownership, and a plurality of homicides occur in the home.”
Women most at risk
Yifan Zhang, a research scholar in the Department of Health Policy and study co-author, noted that two-thirds of the people they studied were women. “It’s important to recognize that women bear the brunt of the elevated risks we identified, and that the fatal assaults they experienced often took the form of being shot by men they lived with,” she said.
The researchers did not find evidence that people living in homes with guns had lower risks of being killed by strangers. On the contrary, they found that risks of such deaths appeared higher, although the result was not statistically significant.
Only one previous study has quantified the risks faced by people who do not own guns but live with others who do. It was conducted 25 years ago and examined too few deaths to reach clear conclusions, the researchers wrote.
An earlier study by the research team using the same cohort found that men who own handguns were eight times more likely to die of gun suicides than men who don’t own guns—and female handgun owners were 35 times more likely to die this way.
“The evidence that gun access is associated with higher suicide risk is now overwhelming,” said Matthew Miller, MD, ScD, a professor of epidemiology at Northeastern University and the senior author of the study.
“Tolerating that suicide risk could, in theory, be worthwhile if firearm ownership enhanced personal safety in other ways. This study shows there’s no such trade-off, because the risk of fatal assault in homes with guns is higher too, and the gun owner’s family members bear a lot of that risk.”
Other Stanford co-authors of the study are research assistant Erin Holsinger, MD; train research data analyst Lea Prince, PhD; train research assistant Alexander Holsinger; and Jonathan Rodden, PhD, professor of political science.
Garen Wintemute of UC Davis also contributed to the work.
The study was funded by the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research, the Fund for a Safer Future, the Joyce Foundation, Stanford Law School and the Stanford University School of Medicine.