The pro-gun lobby imagines guns as vaccines; in reality they’re the disease.

Weapons and military equipment for army, Assault rifle gun (M4A1) and pistol on camouflage background.

Today’s New York Times features an opinion piece by journalist Bethany Mandel entitled I Wanted to Be a Good Mom. So I Got a Gun.

She tells the standard “good guy with a gun” story from her childhood:

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Guns don’t “immunize” against gun deaths; they make them MORE likely.[/pullquote]

It was a spring night and I was sleeping with my window open, which was right above my bed; I loved breathing in the fresh air. That night, in that open window, I heard the banging of a ladder, and by the time my mother made it into the room and began loading her gun, a man was about to climb in.

She said something along the lines of: “Bethany, come over here. I don’t want you to get his brain matter on your face.” I backed up behind her and my mother raised her gun. The would-be intruder slowly backed down the ladder. As he climbed down, my mother approached. The barrel of her rifle was inches away from his face and she told him, “Next time you come here, I won’t hesitate.”

And she points out that she faces a known threat:

After years of receiving death threats for my conservative views, months of being attacked by the alt-right and then having our address published online by the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, I pushed myself to finally go through the process of asking friends for letters attesting to my character, obtaining fingerprints and submitting to background checks.

I was given a reason to feel that I needed to defend myself and my family. And I acted on it.

Mandel, like many in the pro-gun lobby, seems to view guns as a vaccination against crime and violence. The thinking — at an unconscious level — is that a gun will protect its owner in the same way that a vaccine will protect its recipient. In both cases the potential victim will be armed and ready when the unwelcome intruder or disease comes to call.

Unfortunately Mandel, like most of the pro-gun lobby, has drawn the wrong analogy. A weapon in the home isn’t a vaccine against violence. It’s the disease!

But wait, you say, the connection between owning a gun and preventing victimization is just a matter of common sense. Science tells us differently and is filled with countless example of “common sense” views that were destroyed by careful scientific research. It was “common sense” for countless generations to believe that the Earth is flat since it seems flat. Scientific research showed otherwise. It was common sense for countless generations to believe that disease was caused by just about anything except its true cause: bacteria and viruses too small to see with the naked eye.

Similarly, it is common sense to believe that owning a gun is protective. Scientific evidence shows otherwise.

According to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia:

  • …In 2014, 2,549 children (age 0 to 19 years) died by gunshot and an additional 13,576 were injured…
  • Among children, the majority (89%) of unintentional shooting deaths occur in the home. Most of these deaths occur when children are playing with a loaded gun in their parent’s absence.
  • People who report “firearm access” are at twice the risk of homicide and more than three times the risk of suicide compared to those who do not own or have access to firearms.
  • Suicide rates are much higher in states with higher rates of gun ownership, even after controlling for differences among states for poverty, urbanization, unemployment, mental illness, and alcohol or drug abuse.
  • Among suicide victims requiring hospital treatment, suicide attempts with a firearm are much more deadly than attempts by jumping or drug poisoning — 90 percent die compared to 34 percent and 2 percent respectively…
  • States implementing universal background checks and mandatory waiting periods prior to the purchase of a firearm show lower rates of suicides than states without this legislation…
  • In states with increased gun availability, death rates from gunshots for children were higher than in states with less availability.
  • The vast majority of accidental firearm deaths among children are related to child access to firearms — either self-inflicted or at the hands of another child.
  • Domestic violence is more likely to turn deadly with a gun in the home. An abusive partner’s access to a firearm increases the risk of homicide eight-fold for women in physically abusive relationships.

Guns may protect people in certain situations, but overall they dramatically increase the risk of death. Claiming that the solution to a “bad guy with a gun” is a “good guy with a gun” is like claiming that the solution to a smallpox epidemic is to give everyone smallpox. True, you won’t catch smallpox from your neighbor if you already have it, but you’ll be just as dead when you die of smallpox given to you instead of caught by another.

Similarly if you own a gun you might be less likely to be shot by a stranger, but you’ll be far more likely to be shot by a family member or yourself. You’ll be just as dead whether the gun was held by friend or foe.

Guns are not vaccines. They don’t “immunize” you from gun violence. The gun is the disease. As a result owning a gun makes you and your family MORE likely to die from gun violence than to prevent it. That may not be “common sense,” but it is true nonetheless.