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Arthur Kellermann

Arthur L. Kellermann, M.D., is a professor of Emergency Medicine at Emory University.

He is the author of an often mis-quoted 1986 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on the effects of firearms ownership. It is often mis-reported that this study shows that, in households where firearms are kept, "a gun owner is 43 times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder.", which the study does not state.

While this spefic study was funded by "The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation", the US Centers for Disease Control have funded the bulk of the many firearms related studies conducted by A.L. Kellerman since 1986.

This 1986 study has been widely quoted and mis-quoted by advocates of gun control.

Both the methodology of this study and the bias of the author have been criticized by advocates of gun rights.

An example of media mis-quotes of this study by a gun control advocate: The Charlotte Observer published an article entitled "Women and Guns" by Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe on Jan 16, 1993. In it, she writes:

  "I understand the impulse to pick the sort of personal safety 
   sold with a matching holster.  But that sense of security is 
   false.  Guns in the home are 43 times more likely to kill a 
   family member or friend than an intruder.  
   They raise the level of violence, not safety."

Below is the text of the summary of the 1986 Kellermann study which was the source of the "43 times more likely" figure and the common mis-quotes by gun control advocates. See also a listing of Kellermann's other studies at the bottom of this page.

"Protection or Peril? An Analysis of Firearm-Related Deaths  
in the Home," Arthur L. Kellermann and Donald T. Reay, The New 
England Journal of Medicine 314, no., 24 (June 12, 1986)1557-1560.

The article is reprinted in: The Gun Control Debate, You Decide ed. Lee Nisbet, Prometheus Books, 1990, 239-244.

Procedure: The medical examiner case files for every firearm related death in King County, Washington (1980 population = 1,270,000 including Seattle = 494,000 and Bellevue = 74,000) between January 1, 1978 and December 31, 1983 was reviewed. Incomplete records were corroborated with information from police case files and interviews of investigating officers. Gunshot deaths involving the intentional shooting of one person by another were considered homocides. Self-protection homocides were considered "justifiable" if they involved the killing of a felon during the commission of a crime; they were considered "self-defense" if that was the determination of the investigating police department and the King County prosecutor's office.

All homocides resulting in criminal charges and all unsolved homocides were considered criminal homocides.

Data: 6 year period 743 deaths from firearms (= 9.75 / 100,000 per year) = 22.7 percent of all violent deaths in King County excluding traffic deaths = 45% of all homocides (national avg. = 61%) = 49% of all suicides (national avg. = 57%) = <1% of all accidental deaths = 5.7% of deaths in undetermined circumstances inside a house or dwelling = 473 deaths (63.7%) in the home where the firearm invovled was kept = 398 (53.6%) breakdown of 398 deaths in home where gun was kept: suicides = 333 (83.7%) homocides = 50 (12.6%) accidents = 12 (3%) unknown = 3 (0.7) breakdown of suicides with guns in home where gun was kept: male victim = 265 (80%) female victim = 68 (20%) blood tested for ethanol = 245 (74%) blood alcohol test positive = 86 (35% of those tested) blood alcohol level above 100 mg/dl = 60 (24.5% of those tested) handgun used = 226 (68%) long gun used = 107 (32%) breakdown of homocides with guns in home where gun was kept: male victim = 30 (60%) female victim = 20 (40%) blood tested for ethanol = 47 (94%) blood alcohol test positive = 27 (54% of those tested) blood alcohol level above 100 mg/dl = 10 (21% of those tested) handgun used = 34 (68%) long gun used = 16 (32%) {homocides continued, triggering events} occurred during altercation in the home = 42 (84%) self-defense during altercation = 7 of 42 (17%) justifiable homomcide of burglars = 2 of 50 (4%) resulted in criminal charges = 41 of 50 (82%) total self-defense and justifiable = 9 of 50 (18%) breakdown of accidental deaths with guns in home where gun was kept: male victim = 12 (100%) blood alcohol test positive = 2 (17%) handgun used = 11 (92%) deaths excluding suicides = 65 (50 homocide, 12 accident, 3 unknown) victim was stranger = 2 (3%) victim was friend or acquaintance = 24 (37%) victim was resident = 36 (55%) victim of homocide was resident = 29 (45% of total, 58% of homocides) resident shot by family member except spouse = 11 (31%) by spouse = 9 (25%) by self = 7 (19%) by roommate = 6 (17%) by other = 3 (8%) Conclusions: ratio of killed by stranger to killed by person known = 12:1 ratio of accidental deaths to self-protection homocides = 1.3:1 ratio of criminal homocides to self-protection homocides = 4.6:1 ratio of suicides to self-protection homocides = 37:1 ratio of suicides, criminal homocides, and accidental deaths to homocides for self-protection = 43:1 end ------------

Kellermann's study method was drawn from the earlier study cited below.

Rushforth NB, Hirsch CS, Ford AB, Adelson L. Accidental firearm fatalities in a metropolitan county (1958-1973). Am J Epidemiol 1974;100:499-505.

A study of accidental firearm fatalities in Cuyahoga County. Ohio, (Metropolitan Cleveland) from 1956-1973, inclusive, has shown a threefold increase in the rate of such deaths since 1967. They are more frequent in the central city than in the suburbs, show a male preponderance, are more common in nonwhites, have a peak prevalence in the 25-34-year age range and usually happen in the home. Approximately half of the adult victims had been drinking alcoholic beverages when shot. It is hypothesized that the frequency of accidental firearm fatalities is primarily related to the number of guns, particularly handguns, in civilian possession. The data indicate that a loaded firearm in the home is more likely to cause an accidental death than to be used as a lethal weapon against an intruder.

There were 148 accidental firearms deaths from 1958 to 1973. Eighty-three per cent were due to handguns. During this same period of time, 23 burglars, robbers, or other intruders who were not relatives or acquaintances were killed in self-defense. The ratio of accidental firearms deaths to justifiable homicides of an intruder or other unknown assailant was 6.4:1.

The study did not look at suicides and criminal homicides. The authors postulate that the increased rate of accidental firearms fatalities was due to increased availability of guns, but no data is given on firearms ownership rates.


Gun control advocates state that the 1986 Kellermann study proves their point, that owning a gun is an unaceptable threat to yourself, your family, your freinds and to society in general. They accept the final conclusion of the study as indisputeable fact and full justification for their positions.

Gun rights advocates counter that the entire study is not only suspect for the integrity of it's data, but also that it is entirely mis-leading in it's basic methodology to the point where it proves nothing more interesting than the fact that suicides make up the bulk of gunshot deaths, which has been known since gunshot death records begin. Gun rights advocates state that the only purpose for this biased and carefully manipulated study was to create a useful headline for the gun control lobby to use to frighten the public with.

'Objections:\' (In no particular order)

Kellermann AL. and Reay DT. "Protection or Peril? An Analysis of Firearms-Related Deaths in the Home." N Engl J. Med 1986. 314: 1557-60.

In Kellermann's 1986 study the "risk/benefit" ratio he calculated for owning a gun was 43:1, however, in the later study cited below that ratio had dropped to 2.7:1.

Kellermann AL, Rivara FP, Rushforth NB et al. "Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home." N Engl J Med. 1993; 329(15): 1084-91.

From the above study, a chart shows "increased risk factors" as follows:    
Household illicit drug use 5.7 : 1 
Home rented 4.4 : 1 
History of Domestic violence 4.4 : 1 
Lived alone 3.7 : 1 
Gun in home 2.7 : 1 
Household arrest record 2.5 : 1 

Some other Kellermann gun related studies: Sloan JH, Kellermann AL, Reay DT, et al. "Handgun Regulations, Crime, Assaults, and Homicide: A Tale of Two Cities." N Engl J Med 1988; 319: 1256-62.

Kellermann AL, Rivara FP, Somes G, et al. Suicide in the Home in Relationship to Gun Ownership. N Engl J Med. 1992; 327: 467-72.

Kellermann AL and Mercy JA. "Men, Women, and Murder: Gender-specific Differences in Rates of Fatal Violence and Victimization." J Trauma. 1992; 33:1-5.