Professor David Hemenway of the Harvard School of Public Health recently took a series of surveys of scientists in the fields of criminology, economics, public policy, political science and public health on the effects of firearms on society, and made some very interesting discoveries: There’s Scientific Consensus on Guns — and the NRA Won’t Like It.
I decided to determine objectively, through polling, whether there was scientific consensus on firearms. What I found won’t please the National Rifle Assn.
Last May we began sending out short, monthly surveys. The first question on each survey asks how much the respondent agrees with a particular claim related to firearms, and the second and third questions ask the respondent to rate the quality of the scientific literature, as well as their own level of familiarity with the scientific literature on that particular topic.
So, for example, one survey asked whether having a gun in the home increased the risk of suicide. An overwhelming share of the 150 people who responded, 84%, said yes.
This result was not at all surprising because the scientific evidence is overwhelming. It includes a dozen individual-level studies that investigate why some people commit suicide and others do not, and an almost equal number of area-wide studies that try to explain differences in suicide rates across cities, states and regions. These area-wide studies find that differences in rates of suicide across the country are less explained by differences in mental health or suicide ideation than they are by differences in levels of household gun ownership.
I also found widespread confidence that a gun in the home increases the risk that a woman living in the home will be a victim of homicide (72% agree, 11% disagree) and that a gun in the home makes it a more dangerous place to be (64%) rather than a safer place (5%). There is consensus that guns are not used in self-defense far more often than they are used in crime (73% vs. 8%) and that the change to more permissive gun carrying laws has not reduced crime rates (62% vs. 9%). Finally, there is consensus that strong gun laws reduce homicide (71% vs. 12%).