Do guns hurt more people than they protect?

Just think how many people are killed with guns every year - on purpose and by accident! But guns by themselves don’t kill anyone - people do. Plus guns can protect people if they’re being attacked. Hmm, this is complicated...

Celebrities and their guns: who said what?

Some people think that the more guns a country has, the more killings there’ll be. Is that true?

Some people think that the more guns a country has, the more killings there’ll be. Is that true?

Yes, more guns = more murders!

American news station CNN, a channel that shares a lot of the gun control views of the Democrat political party, says that the stats make it clear that if the US had fewer guns they’d have fewer murders. Do you agree?

No, it’s not about the guns!

This internet-based news outlet in America disagrees with CNN - their views tend to be more in keeping with the Republican party which is fairly pro-guns. They agree that the US has a high murder rate, but they don’t think guns are to blame. After all, there are lots of other things, like gang culture or how much access people have to ammunition, that could influence the number of murders that happen. So it's quite hard to compare different countries - their culture, laws and people are so different. But what do you think?

Do guns help stop crimes?

In the discussion about whether guns are good or bad, a key argument is that guns can protect people. They can help to halt a killer in their tracks, take down a running robber, or stop a kidnapper from getting away with a young child. And surely anything that can protect people is good, right?


Except the problem is, guns don’t just help people to stop crimes - they also help people to commit them! Lots of murderers, robbers and kidnappers also have guns and so people get hurt. So the real question is, which is more common - a gun being used to commit a crime or a gun being used to prevent a crime? In other words, do guns help more than they hurt?

Put your hands up - it’s the police!

One way to think about this question is to look at the police. After all, they’re the ones most often involved in stopping crimes - that’s their job. So are they better at stopping crimes when they have a gun or when they don’t?

Well, if crime rates are anything to go by, the answer is that they’re much better when they aren’t pointing and shooting. For example, Norway, Iceland and New Zealand are three countries where the police don’t have guns, and they’re all very high up on the Global Peace Index - an international rating system that shows how safe and secure a country is. Iceland is actually in the number 1 slot (out of 163 countries), New Zealand is at number 4 and Norway is at number 17.

But the US, a country that does give its police officers guns, is at number 103 on the Global Peace Index - much lower down. And when you compare their crime rates with somewhere like the UK (where our police don’t have guns) you’ll see that that while some types of crime are a little bit more common in the UK, on the whole, there’s a lot more crime in America.

The UK has more instances of robbery and knife crime, although not by a huge amount. But when it comes to more violent crimes it’s a different story - you’re almost seven times more likely to be attacked and injured in the US than you are in the UK, four times more likely to be murdered and 35 times more likely to be shot and killed! And when we come back to our trusty Global Peace Index again, we can see that the UK is rated number 47 - much higher up the list than the US.

But despite these figures, it's still scientifically very hard to determine whether gun use by police has a positive or negative effect (if any) on crime levels.

Taking the law into our own hands

But what about when the police aren’t around? After all, most criminals don’t commit their crimes right in front of a police station. So when it’s up to ‘normal people’ to help stop a crime, does it help if they have a gun?

Well, sometimes it does - like in a hospital near Philadelphia in the US, where a patient who was struggling with mental health issues started to go on a shooting rampage. He killed his caseworker and was heading out into the hall with a fully loaded gun when another doctor at the scene pulled out his own weapon - and thankfully he was able to injure the shooter enough to make him stop shooting. Police at the scene said they were sure many more people would have been killed if the doctor hadn’t had a gun on him. Or what about the example of a church in Pennsylvania, on the East coast of the US, where a 38-year-old man burst through the doors with a shotgun - but before he could start shooting, two church members pulled out their guns and managed to get his weapon away from him. No shots were fired at all and no one was hurt.

But it seems that those situations are actually quite rare. The research suggests that, on the whole, the presence of guns in a community makes violence more likely.

A researcher from a recent Harvard University study said, "We found no support for the theory that owning more guns leads to a reduction in violent crime - instead, we found the opposite."

The Harvard study discovered that crime rates were actually higher in US states where lots of ordinary people owned guns - for example, robberies at gunpoint were actually almost seven times more common in states with high gun ownership than with states where few people owned guns. The number of assaults and murders were higher too.

Should we ban all the guns?

So it’s clear that while guns can sometimes help to stop crimes, they can also play a part in making crime more likely. But does that mean they’re bad and we should get rid of them all? If countries like the US had tighter gun laws and there were fewer guns around, it’s possible that the bad guys would get hold of them illegally anyway and still use them to hurt people - only now the good guys wouldn't have them, so they wouldn’t be able to protect themselves or anybody else.

It’s obvious that guns can do good things and guns can do bad things. But ultimately we’re back to our question at the beginning - do guns help more than they hurt? Are they good more often than they’re bad? It’s up to you to make up your mind and to cast your vote.

The production team of 2005 drama 'Lord of War' bought 3,000 real rifles to stand in for AK47s because they were cheaper than the prop guns!

The production team of 2005 drama 'Lord of War' bought 3,000 real rifles to stand in for AK47s because they were cheaper than the prop guns!

4 reasons you might fire a gun

  1. To protect your country
    1. Pretty much all countries have some kind of army to help them if they’re going to be invaded or if there’s internal conflict of any kind. But what if that’s not enough? For example, in Estonia they set up the Estonian Defence League, a national defence organisation made up of gun-owning volunteers ready to jump into action should they need to defend their country from invaders. The UK did the same during World War II when they thought Hitler might invade the country - it formed the Home Guard, which was made up of men who were mostly either too old or too young to serve in the military. They became known as 'Dad's Army' and members of the public donated guns for them to use. Would you be willing to pick up a gun and defend your country if you needed to?
  2. To keep nature under control
    1. Our ecosystem has a very delicate balance, so it can be a problem when there are too many of a particular species of animal. It can cause problems for the other wildlife and for trees and plants, as well as impacting people and certain industries. One example is the deer population in the UK - it’s higher than it has been for 1,000 years and it’s causing all sorts of problems. “Deer can affect the age diversity of a woodland, resulting in a fall in numbers of species, and can also strip bark off older trees, which kills them,” says the Wildlife Trust. Deer are also responsible for a 50% reduction in the number of woodland birds in the areas where they make their homes. Not to mention that every year deer cause 50,000 road traffic accidents and do crop damage that ends up costing us around £4.3 million. And the best way to solve these problems? Planned deer culling. And the most humane way to do that? Shooting them.
  3. To stay healthy
    1. Guns aren’t always aimed at a living thing - using a shooting range to fire at a stationary target is a very popular form of exercise in the UK. And it can be really good for both your physical and mental health. It increases your arm strength and your balance - staying perfectly still while holding a heavy gun is great for your posture, your biceps and your core muscles. It can be good for your eyes - improving their focus and giving them a break from the stress of staring at a bright electronic screen. Plus it’s great for your brain - experienced shooters reckon that sport shooting is 90% mental. It’s been shown to sharpen your concentration levels. Good safety practices are key, of course, but it’s just as much a sport as anything else you do in PE.
  4. To defend yourself against zombies
    1. You never know - it could happen! We’re not as far off some kind of apocalypse as you might think. The ‘Doomsday Clock’ was created in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to represent a countdown to possible global catastrophe - most likely brought about by nuclear war or the ultimate effects of climate change. ‘Doomsday’ is shown on the clock as midnight, and the current time is adjusted according to how far the Atomic Scientists think we are from the end of the world (and they’re not exactly a random bunch of nutters - their governing board has 18 Nobel prize winners on it!) The closest to midnight the clock has ever come was in 1953 (just after WWII) when it was set at two minutes to midnight, but it’s been moved back a few times since then. However, as of January 2017 (when a certain US President came into power), it’s been set at two and a half minutes to midnight. And who knows what state of chaos the world might be in if we ever actually reach the dreaded midnight - you might be glad of a gun in a zombie-filled post-nuclear-war world!

Guns in the home: helpful or hazardous?

One of the most common reasons people want to own a gun is to protect themselves. And fair enough - if you found a criminal in your home wouldn’t you want a weapon that could make them think twice about robbing or attacking you?



When it comes to having a gun for self-protection, even the peace-loving Dalai Lama seems to believe they’re effective: "If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun. Not at the head, where a fatality might result. But at some other body part, such as a leg." 

And many Americans agree - at the last count there were around 300 million privately-owned guns in the US (that’s roughly one gun for every man, woman and child). And most of them were bought with home protection in mind.

But are these gun owners right? Just how good are guns at protecting you in your home?

Bungled burglaries

One couple in Leicestershire, Andy and Tracey Ferries, would say they’re pretty good. They’d been burgled several times, despite reporting the issue to the police. So when yet another pair of intruders tried to break into their home in 2012, they decided enough was enough - so they shot at them. They didn’t kill the two would-be thieves, only injured one of them. And it definitely worked - they ran off without stealing anything.

But on the other hand, we have Tony Martin, a farmer from Norfolk, who shot and killed a teenage burglar who was breaking into his property way back in 1999. Mr Martin had also been burgled many times before and was fed up, so resorted to getting out his gun. But English law says you can only kill another person in self-defence if you use no more than ‘reasonable force’ - in other words, force that is in proportion to what the person is doing to you. (So if someone nicks your crisps at lunch and you respond by hitting them over the head with a metal chair, that’s ‘unreasonable force’!)

In this case, Mr Martin was judged to have used unreasonable force and was charged with murder - and sentenced to life imprisonment. So his gun may have kept him safe, but it also put him in jail.

Having a gun can backfire

The other issue with guns in the home is that while most people buy them to shoot an intruder, they’re actually much more likely to end up being used on someone who already lives in the house.

A study in the US showed that the risk of someone committing suicide increases hugely just by them living in a house where there’s a gun. And another study showed that in 2015 about 265 children under the age of 18 picked up a gun and shot someone else by accident - and 83 of those shootings were fatal. An astonishing 43 of the shootings happened at the hands of children under three, and in 18 of those cases, the toddlers also hurt themselves. And yet another study (apparently researchers find guns pretty interesting) done in Atlanta showed that it was twice as likely that a burglar would steal and use the homeowner’s gun than have it used on them by the homeowner.

There’s also the famous case of Oscar Pistorius. Once upon a time people remembered the speedy South African paralympian as ‘the Blade Runner’, winner of six gold medals. But now he’s remembered for killing his girlfriend. According to Pistorius, he was in bed when he heard noises in his bathroom - he claims he thought it was a burglar, so he shot several times through the door to where he thought they were. But it turned out to be his girlfriend who’d got up in the night to go to the toilet. So although he’d thought he was using his weapon to protect the people in his house, he ended up killing one of them. As you can probably imagine, this case has been the subject of a lot of debate among experts and shows how the line between self-defence and murder can be very thin. 

Safe… or sorry?

So, while you might think you’d be safer at home with a gun, there are an awful lots of ways that things can go tragically wrong. But is that a risk worth taking in order to have a chance to protect yourself if trouble comes? You decide.