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Ellen O'Brien

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May 21, 2003

Live with a Gun, Die by a Gun?

Study Links Guns in the Home with Increased Deaths by Gunshot

(Philadelphia, PA) - If you keep a gun in your home, you dramatically increase the odds that you will die of a gunshot wound, according to research published in the June issue of the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

"Keeping guns at home is dangerous for adults regardless of age, sex, or race," said Douglas J. Wiebe, PhD, Instructor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and a fellow at Penn's Firearm Injury Center. Wiebe led the study by the Violence Prevention Research Group at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) before moving to Penn.

Wiebe's study found that people with a gun in their home were almost twice as likely to die in a gun-related homicide, and 16 times more likely to use a gun to commit suicide, than people without a gun in their home. The findings support widely debated studies published a decade ago in the New England Journal of Medicine that also link the presence of a gun in the house with increased rates of suicide and death by homicide.

One in every three households in the United States contains firearms; the number of guns in those homes totals nearly 200 million, according to the National Institute of Justice. In his study, Wiebe compared 1,720 homicide victims and 1,959 suicide vicitms over the age of 18 with a sampling of American adults.

"Our findings suggest that, when violence occurs and a gun is accessible, the gun may be selected for use over a weapon that is less lethal," Wiebe said. "That is particularly significant in terms of suicides and domestic violence."

Wiebe's study also found that handguns accounted for 40 percent of all domestic homicides and one-third of all suicides. In fact, according to the research, people with a gun in the home were significant less likely than others to use a non-gun weapon for suicide.

"This may be a function of the fact that a gun requires little preparation. Tragically, because gunshot wounds are so traumatic, almost all gunshot suicide attempts are fatal," Wiebe said."Emergency department staff at hospitals throughout the country see the devastation caused by guns on a daily basis. In any 24-hour period, more than 160 people are treated for gunshot wounds," Wiebe said. "Physicians should talk with their patients about the implications of owning a gun, particularly if those patients appear suicidal or present signs of domestic abuse."

The research was funded by the California Wellness Foundation and the California Endowment.

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