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Guns: Feeling Safe ≠ Being Safe

Stuart Vyse is a psychologist and author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, which won the William James Book Award of the American Psychological Association. He is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

In the days after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, in late 2015, a dear friend who is a single mother made an impassioned plea on her Facebook page. After seeing many calls for increased gun control, she explained that she had been a victim of assault in the past and would not be giving up her handgun anytime soon. She said maintaining her permit was difficult to do—“as it should be”—but she was clearly upset about the many calls for additional controls.

While I sympathize with my friend’s desire for security, she has fallen for one of the most common and most dangerous misconceptions Americans hold. According to a 2013 Gallup poll (Swift 2013), the top reason U.S. gun owners keep a firearm is for “personal safety/protection.” Fully 60 percent of gun owners gave this reason; the next most common reason was “hunting” at 36 percent.

Sadly, buying a gun does not make you safer. To the contrary, the evidence suggests that bringing a gun into your home increases the chances you will be killed. You are to be forgiven if you have not heard more about this. There is an extremely profitable industry based on the myth that guns are an effective means of self-protection, and it would be bad for business if this information were more widely known. Furthermore, the myth that weapons make you safer has benefited from a deliberate campaign against science and the collection of gun violence data.

The Campaign against Gun Violence Research

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