October 2001 Volume 43, No 4

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Martin Killias
School of Forensic Science and Criminology
University of Lausanne, Switzerland

John van Kesteren
Torino, Italy

Martin Rindlisbacher
School of Forensic Science and Criminology
University of Lausanne, Switzerland

Research on the role of firearms in violence and fatal events has focused heavily on American data and research. This implies certain limitations, since the United States is one of the Western countries with exceptionally high homicide and gun ownership rates. Thus, the American context offers only limited variance in the most prominent independent as well as dependent variables.

International comparisons offer challenging new perspectives. This research is based on data on gun availability in private households, collected through the international victimization surveys of 1989, 1992, and 1996, and World Health Organization data on homicide and suicide from 21 countries. It updates and extends former research conducted on this issue, based on the surveys of 1989 and 1992. In addition, data from the International Crime Victimization Surveys were used on total and gun-related robbery and assault (including threats).

The results show very strong correlations between the presence of guns in the home and suicide committed with a gun, rates of gun-related homicide involving female victims, and gun-related assault. The picture is different for male homicide, total rates of assault, and generally, for robbery (committed with or without a gun). With the exception of robbery, most correlations are similar or stronger when all types of guns are considered, rather than handguns alone. Interestingly, no significant correlations with toal suicide or homicide rates were found, leaving open the question of possible substitution effects. It is concluded that guns in the home are an important risk factor in suicide with guns, as well as a threat to women (especially female partners), whereas their role in homicide of male victims and street crime (such as robbery) may be much less prominent. Finally, the usual focus on handguns may lead to underestimate the role of other types of guns.