Gun ownership rates tied to domestic homicides, but not other killings, study finds

click to enlarge Inside the Clark Brothers Gun Shop in Warrenton, Va., Feb. 25, 2018. A new study published on July 22, 2019, in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine has found that a higher rate of firearm ownership is associated with a higher rate of domestic violence homicide in the U.S., but that the same does not hold true for other kinds of gun homicide. - ERIN SCHAFF/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Erin Schaff/The New York Times
Inside the Clark Brothers Gun Shop in Warrenton, Va., Feb. 25, 2018. A new study published on July 22, 2019, in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine has found that a higher rate of firearm ownership is associated with a higher rate of domestic violence homicide in the U.S., but that the same does not hold true for other kinds of gun homicide.
By Sarah Mervosh
New York Times News Service

A new study has found that a higher rate of firearm ownership is associated with a higher rate of domestic violence homicide in the United States, but that the same does not hold true for other kinds of gun homicide.

That means that women, who make up most victims of domestic homicide, are among those most at risk, said Aaron Kivisto, an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Indianapolis and the lead author on the study.

“It is women, in particular, who are bearing the burden of this increased gun ownership,” he said.


The study, published Monday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, examined firearm ownership on a state-by-state level from 1990 to 2016. It found that while firearm ownership was associated with rates of gun homicide involving intimate partners and other family members, there was no significant association between gun ownership rates and the rates of other kinds of gun homicide, such as those involving friends, acquaintances and strangers.

“That was probably the most surprising finding,” Kivisto said.

“It is not a risk that is equally shared across the population,” he added.

The study reaffirms a well-known connection between access to guns and abusive relationships turning deadly, at a time when intimate partner homicides are on the rise. Research has shown that women killed by their partners are more likely to be killed with a firearm than by all other means combined, and the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations can increase the risk of homicide for women by as much as 500%, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.


Both men and women were at increased risk for domestic homicide when firearm ownership increased, the study found. “But the important caveat to that is, whereas men are victims in about 3 out of 4 typical homicides that occur, it fully reverses when we are talking about intimate partner homicide,” Kivisto said. “Women are 3 in 4 victims of intimate partner homicide.”

One possibility for the finding, the researchers hypothesized, is that perpetrators in nondomestic homicides are more likely to obtain their weapons illegally, or to buy a weapon legally shortly before the crime.

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