Do guns save lives?

Want your own roll of guns save lives stickers? Get ’em here!

Do guns save lives?  Not that I can find. 

This post isn’t about whether guns are okay, or whether they’re protected under the 2nd Amendment.  The simple answer to those questions is “yes.”  Guns have purpose, and the 2nd Amendment isn’t going anywhere. 

At the Westmoreland County Board of Supervisor’s hearing on Wednesday, December 11, the sea of folks sported orange “Guns Save Lives” stickers.  Not surprising, as there was a table outside the hearing building where some (unidentified) group was urging attendees to wear the stickers.  I politely declined.  It caused me, however, to research:  Do guns save lives?

It’s a pretty easy answer – no. 

In Virginia, there are approximately 1,000 deaths by firearms annually (and yes, they’ve been generally on the increase).  In 2018, gun-related deaths broke down as follows:  Accident:  6 (<1%); homicide:  347 (34%); suicide:  674 (65%); undetermined:  9 (<1%).  The vast majority of both gun-related homicides and suicides are by handguns (80% or so).  One-third of homicides are related to domestic violence. 

As much as I tried, I could find no data about guns being used defensively in Virginia.  The internet is full of anecdotal claims of defensive use of guns.  There’s also a problem with the definition of “defensive use.”  Is someone shooting someone else during a drug deal gone bad “defensive use”?  Hard to tell.  If someone can provide reliable data, I’d happily post it (with attribution, of course!).  

It’s fair, I think, to look at the gross numbers of those killed by firearms in Virginia.  Without question, suicide is a massive problem, both in Virginia and nationally.   We lose someone in Virginia to suicide an average of once every 14 hours.  

There may be many slogans to be used for those in love with the 2nd Amendment.  But “guns save lives” slogan is an oxymoron.  

Want to do your own research?   Here are a few sites I’d recommend (in no particular order).  I’ve tried to avoid both sites with obvious political bents, both for and against reasonable gun control.   

  1. Harvard.  It’s a great site about injuries related to firearms.  
  2. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  The linked site is for Virginia.
  3. American Public Health Association.  This link is to a study about firearm ownership and suicide rates among US men and women, 1981-2013.  
  4. Family and Intimate Partner Homicide Surveillance (from the Virginia Department of Health); see also the 2015 Annual Report on Family and Intimate Partner Homicide.   
  5. Gun Violence in Virginia (from the Virginia Department of Health).  This is an interesting powerpoint reviewing demographics of gun violence, both fatal and non-fatal.  
  6. CDC Mortality Statistics for Virginia.
  7. CDC National Violent Deaths Reporting System.  
  8. Gun Violence Archive.  An interesting (if not particularly user-friendly) site where one can research by location, classification, and a myriad of other variables.   
  9. Defensive Gun Use (from Wikipedia).  This is an interesting, if disputed, article about the difficulty in establishing data for defensive gun use.  

1 thought on “Do guns save lives?”


    Thank you for posting this. I was wondering about the claim on those stickers because it didn’t seem possible with a mass murder everyday.

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