Facts About Firearm Policy Initiative

Return to Database
MYTH: Firearms in the home do not correlate to increases in homicide (Kellermann Study)

Summary:

  • In 1993, while at the University of Tennessee, Memphis, Arthur L. Kellermann, MD, now the Virginia Commonwealth University Senior Vice-President and CEO, and nine co-authors published a study that found “guns kept in the home are associated with an increase in the risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance.”
  • The Kellermann study was designed to assess the relationship between keeping a gun in the home and the risk of being murdered by any weapon, not just the firearm kept in the home.
  • Kellermann and his coauthors mention that in a subset of 14 cases, police reports stated that the murder weapon had been kept in the home in eight of those cases. Lott claims that eight out of a subset of 14 cases is equivalent to eight out of 444 cases.
  • Researcher John Lott mangles Kellermann’s conclusion by misleadingly claiming that only eight homicide victims out of the 444 homicide cases were killed with a gun that had been kept in the home, ignoring that those 8 cases were out of a subset of 14 cases, not the overall sample.
  • Lott makes this misleading claim to detract from Kellermann’s conclusion that a firearm in the home is associated with an increased risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance.

Lott’s Claim:

Lott often targets a 1993 study by Kellermann and nine co-authors which found that individuals who kept guns in the home were more likely to be victims of homicide than those who did not. Lott claimed that Kellermann fails to mention that only eight of the 444 homicides involved a gun kept in the house. Here are a few examples of Lott’s claim:

  • In his 2020 book, Gun Control Myths, Lott writes: “In one of the most well-known public health studies on firearms, Kellermann’s ‘case sample’ consists of 444 homicides that occurred in homes… These studies make the ludicrous assumption that if a gun owner died from a gun shot, then it was the gun in the home that killed that person. The paper fails to report that in only 8 of these 444 homicide cases was the murder weapon the gun that had been kept in the home.”
  • In a 2017 rebuttal to a Scientific American article by Melinda Moyer that criticizes Lott’s research, Lott writes: “Moyer fails to note that, in fact, in only eight of these 444 homicide cases was the murder weapon a gun that had been kept in the home… If Moyer had even read the 1998 edition of More Guns, Less Crime, she would have learned this.” 
  • In his 1998 book, More Guns, Less Crime, Lott writes: “There are many problems with Kellermann et al.’s paper that undercut the misleading impression that victims were killed by the gun in the home. For example, they fail to report that in only 8 of these 444 homicide cases could it be established that the “gun involved had been kept in the home.” He also writes, “The fact that all or virtually all the homicide victims were killed by weapons brought into their homes by intruders makes this all the more plausible.”  

The Facts:

Lott’s claim that only eight homicide victims out of 444 homicide cases were killed with a gun that had been kept in the home is blatantly false. Kellermann and his coauthors mention that in a subset of 14 cases, police reports stated that the murder weapon had been kept in the home in eight of those cases. “Needless to say, 14 is not equal to 444,” Tim Lambert, a Computer Scientist at the University of New South Wales, explains.

Lambert also disputes Lott’s claim that nearly every homicide victim in Kellermann’s study was killed by weapons brought into their homes by intruders. Kellermann’s paper shows that only 14% of the homicide victims were killed by intruders. “By no stretch of the imagination can this be called ‘all’ or ‘virtually all,” Lambert says. “Lott grossly misrepresents Kellermann’s study.”

Lott further argues that the case-control method used by Kellermann is not an appropriate method of studying the risks of firearms in the home because other factors may cause a correlation between gun ownership and homicide. Lott’s claim is false because Kellermann used multivariate analysis to control for dozens of other factors. 

Even if Kellermann made the mistakes Lott claims, the study would still show that keeping a gun in the home increases the risk of being murdered. Moyer writes in her counter to Lott’s 2017 rebuttal in Scientific American, “Lott criticizes me for omitting a detail about the Kellermann study that he considers important—but it is not. The study found the odds of being murdered nearly tripled among those who kept guns at home. Lott says it is important that most of these homicides did not involve the resident’s gun. That is a straw man. The study was designed to assess the relationship between keeping a gun in the home and the risk of being murdered by any weapon. Murder victims are murder victims, regardless of weapon or means.”

Sources

John Lott, More Guns Less Crime, 1998

John Lott, Gun Control Myths, 2020

Arthur Kellermann et. al., “Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home,” The New England Journal of Medicine, October 7, 1993

Arthur L. Kellermann et al., “Injuries and Deaths Due to Firearms in the Home,” Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care, August 1998

Tim Lambert, “Lott on Kellermann,” ScienceBlogs, Apr. 21, 2001

John Lott, “More Guns Mean More Violent Crime–or Less? A Researcher Aims at Scientific American,” Scientific American, Nov. 10, 2017

Share