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August 5, 1998

Does Owning a Firearm Increase or Decrease the Risk of Death?

Author Affiliations

From the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and the Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle.


Controversies section editor: Phil B. Fontanarosa, MD, Senior Editor.

JAMA. 1998;280(5):471-473. doi:10.1001/jama.280.5.471

DURING A VISIT for preventive care, a patient asks, "If I buy a gun, will it increase or decrease my risk of dying prematurely?" What evidence should the physician seek in formulating a response?

A firearm can potentially offer both benefits and risks to the health of its owner. Balancing risks is something that clinicians commonly do in medicine. For example, when considering a prescription for hormone replacement therapy, clinicians must weigh a somewhat higher risk for endometrial cancer against a lower risk for heart disease. Although the pros and cons of gun ownership have been the subject of impassioned debate, using an evidence-based approach to address the patient's question is appealing.