Why this American professor maintains that it is myth the discourse that weapons are effective for person defense
having a gun in the house increases the risks for the residents
In the debate about possession and carrying of a weapon by the population, a common argument is that, with a weapon at home, the citizen is more likely to be able to defend himself and his family if they are attacked by criminals.
“Having a gun and using it for self-defense does not seem to reduce the chances of being injured. Maybe it can reduce the chances of losing property, but that’s still not clear,” Hemenway said in an interview with BBC News Brasil.
His conclusions are based on 150 studies on the effect of firearms on society and public health made since 1990 by the center he commands. In 2012, Hemenway was recognized by the U.S. government as one of the 20 most influential experts on violence in the past 20 years.
“What we know for sure is that a weapon at home is used much more frequently not against someone who has broken into his home, but against his own family,” he says.
According to the expert, several studies indicate that the risks of having a gun at home outweigh the benefits. Among these risks are those of fatal accidents, suicides, intimidation and of women and children being killed.
Weapons do not seem to have any beneficial effect in reducing crime,” he says.
“Having a gun triples the risk of suicide,” he points out.
Several of his research concluded that states where there are more households with guns have higher suicide rates, particularly firearm suicides.
The difference would be explained by easier access to the instrument, since these households no longer had mental health problems or more cases of suicidal thoughts than those without guns.
In analyses of the relationship between the availability of firearms and unintentional deaths, homicides, and suicides of women and children, the Harvard center concluded that in states with more weapons there are more violent deaths in these groups.
Another analysis, comparing 25 high-income countries, revealed that where there are more weapons, there are more homicides of women, with the United States at the top of the list.
Hemenway is the author of several studies that challenge the idea that weapons would be used for personal defense millions of times a year in the United States.
This result was then used to estimate the incidence of self-defense cases in the entire American population. Hemenway and other critics pointed to problems in this methodology – which, according to them, would have resulted in a large number of false positives and overestimated the frequency with which weapons would be used for self-defense.
Critics further argue that if weapons were actually used in these cases millions of times a year, it would mean that citizens would have hit hundreds of thousands of criminals with gunfire.
But data from emergency departments in hospitals do not prove these figures, even though surveys of inmates in prisons around the country indicate that criminals almost always go to hospital when they are shot wounded.
Hemenway notes that using a weapon requires ongoing training
Another problem highlighted would be the fact that less than 1% of the supposed 2.5 million uses of weapons for self-defense per year appear in police reports – a percentage that would be very low, even if not all incidents were reported to the authorities.
Several studies conducted by Hemenway indicate that the use of weapons for self-defense is rare in the United States. In an analysis of 14,000 incidents in which the victim was present in the period 2007 to 2011, only 127 (0.9%) involved the use of weapons for this purpose.
“Unfortunately, data on the use of weapons for self-defense are not reliable,” says one of his articles on “the risks and benefits of having a weapon at home,” which summarizes the available scientific literature on the subject.
Research on gun-related violence in the United States has been restricted since 1996, when a law prohibited the use of federal government funding to “promote arms control.
This law was passed with the support of pro-weapons sectors in reaction to a 1993 study, according to which the presence of a weapon in the home would almost triple the risk of gun death and increase the risk of suicide by five times.
When there are more weapons, in any kind of hostile interaction, they increase the chances that someone will be killed,” says Hemenway.
This study was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the country’s largest public health research agency linked to the Department of Health.
Following the passage of the law, the CDC stopped researching and funding studies on the subject, which affected researchers across the country, as there is a lack of accurate and nationwide data to analyze patterns in cases of gun violence.
In this scenario, Hemenway and other experts point out that there are still many unanswered questions and that more research is needed.
But, he said, there is sufficient evidence to challenge the idea that greater access to arms would make society safer. According to the researcher, more weapons lead to more cases of violence.
“In the U.S., we see that states with more weapons and weaker weapons laws do far worse than those with stricter laws and fewer weapons,” he notes.
Among the changes proposed – which require approval by Congress – are the reduction of the minimum age for possession from 25 to 21 years and the end of the requirement to declare an effective need for a weapon (currently this assessment is the responsibility of the Federal Police).
Possession would also be allowed for those who respond to police enquiries or criminal proceedings, as long as they have not been convicted of an intentional crime.
The size, currently restricted to public security professionals, would be allowed for those over 25 years of age who meet the requirements for possession.
Brazil cannot be compared to the US in terms of violence, as it has a less advanced economy and greater inequality, among other differences. But Hemenway believes that even a country like Brazil can learn from the experience of the United States, which has the highest rate of weapons per capita in the world.
“Guns don’t seem to have any beneficial effect in reducing crime,” he says. “But when there are more weapons, in any kind of hostile interaction, they increase the chances that someone will be killed.
He cites the example of fights in traffic. “You have two people assaulting each other. If there are no guns, they push and yell at each other. If there is a gun, it is possible that someone will be killed.
Hemenway also notes that in order to use a weapon, continuous training is required. “You need to be very well trained. Even policemen, who are trained, often use their weapons inappropriately,” he says.
Another risk is that the weapons are stolen and end up in the hands of criminals.
“There are studies that suggest that not having a gun reduces the chances of your home being robbed, since thieves like to steal guns.