'In the safety of your own home': results from a national survey on gun use at home

Soc Sci Med. 2000 Jan;50(2):285-91. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(99)00283-x.


In the US, guns, particularly handguns, are typically brought into the home for protection. The wisdom of having a firearm in the home, however, is disputed. While guns appear to be a risk factor for family homicide, suicide and unintentional firearm fatality, no evidence has been available about gun use at home to intimidate family members and little about gun use to thwart crimes by intruders, or about the use of other weapons in home self-defense. Over the past decade, various private surveys have asked questions about the respondent's use of guns in self-defense. None, however, has asked detailed questions about the use of guns to threaten or intimidate the respondent. This study presents results from a national random digit dial telephone survey of 1906 US adults conducted in the spring of 1996. Respondents were asked about hostile gun displays and use of guns and other weapons in self-defense at home in the past five years. The objective of the survey was to assess the relative frequency and characteristics of weapons-related events at home. Thirteen respondents reported that a gun was displayed against them at home, two reported using a gun in self-defense at home, and 24 reported using another weapon (e.g. knife, baseball bat) in home self-defense. While we do not always know whose weapon was used in these incidents, most gun brandishings were by male intimates against women. A gun in the home can be used against family members or intruders and can be used not only to kill and wound, but to intimidate and frighten. This small study provides some evidence that guns may be used at least as often by family members to frighten intimates as to thwart crime, and that other weapons are far more commonly used against intruders than are guns.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Data Collection
  • Domestic Violence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Family Relations
  • Female
  • Firearms / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Firearms / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • United States
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data*