Violence, the 'family value'

PEOPLE who have guns in their homes are almost three times more likely to become homicide statistics while at home than those who don't own guns.

That finding from a study published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine follows the trend of an earlier study of suicides. That study found that the likelihood of suicide was almost five times higher in homes where guns were kept.


The homicide study is sure to be shot down by the gun lobby as another set of useless statistics that don't take into account the times that guns have saved people from getting killed.

I'll grant the National Rifle Association that point. Short of anecdotal stories, there hasn't been a reliable study showing how many times guns may have helped protect law-abiding folks.


What's clear from this study is that you have a better chance of getting killed by someone you know, either a relative or an acquaintance, than you do of getting whacked by a burglar in your home.

And it's a huge chance.

The study found that 76.7 percent of the study victims were killed by a relative or someone known to them, though not all of those were killed with guns. Firearms, mostly handguns, were involved in the largest group of deaths, 49.8 percent, and knives came in second, used in 26.4 percent of the homicides.

Of the 420 homicide cases studied in three counties -- the most populous ones -- in Tennessee, Washington and Ohio, 51 percent had to do with a quarrel between relatives or friends or with revenge in a romantic triangle. Another 4.5 percent were killed by a family member or close friend as part of a homicide-suicide.

Twenty-two percent of the homicides were found by police to have happened in the commission of another crime, such as robbery, rape or burglary. Another 7.6 percent of the deaths were blamed on drug-dealing. And 13 percent of the deaths were characterized by police as homicides committed by strangers without any other apparent motive.

Fifteen of the 420 dead seemed to "deserve" it, in the sense that their attackers avoided conviction "under legally excusable circumstances," the study noted. I'm sure the NRA will hold up that tiny statistic of 3.6 percent of the dead to show why guns are a good thing.

Of course, you could make the case that outlawing guns wouldn't make much of a difference, because people intent on killing would just turn to knives or heavy objects to get the job done. There's no denying the ugly side of human nature.

But it's also true that you have a better chance of surviving a knife wound or a bludgeoning from a heavy object than you do surviving a bullet.


In any case, I'm not going to argue for gun control today. The bigger issue highlighted by this study is how society has come to accept domestic violence as a part of Americana.

The study found that the risk of death by a gun increased in homes that had guns and a history of fighting in those homes. Mix that with the volatile concoction of drug or alcohol abuse, the study found, and the end is predictable.

"In contrast to the money spent on firearms and home security, little has been done to improve society's capacity to respond to the problem of domestic violence," the study's authors noted. "Our data suggest that the risk of homicide is markedly increased in homes where a person has previously been hit or hurt in a family fight.

"At the very least, this observation should prompt physicians, social workers, law-enforcement officers, and the courts to work harder to identify and protect victims of battering and other forms of family violence. Early identification and effective intervention may prevent a later homicide."

Families, fights and guns in the home. Who would dare interfere with that deadly combination?

Myriam Marquez is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.