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Why gun ownership among US women is climbing

Fifteen percent of America's women own guns – a small but pronounced increase from six years ago, a recent poll found. Personal safety is the motivation, but some argue that a gun at home makes women less safe.

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“There is little evidence that guns are effective when it comes to self-defense,” he says.

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In his book “Private Guns, Public Health,” Dr. Hemenway argues that in high-gun states (determined by average levels of household gun ownership), the rates at which women experience gun violence are higher than in low-gun states: 3.5 times higher for gun homicides, 6 times higher for gun suicide, and 7 times higher for accidental death by gun.

Nationwide, 52 percent of homicides in which women were the victims (about 1,700 in 2010) were committed with firearms, according to the Violence Policy Center’s analysis of 2010 FBI homicide data.

“Statistics show that when females are killed, it's more likely, over 50 percent of the time, to be by a spouse or household member,” said Baltimore Police Chief Jim Johnson during a Senate hearing on gun violence Jan. 30. “A gun in a home where there is a history of domestic violence, statistics show that there is a 500 percent increase of chance that that person will be victimized by gun violence.”

Simone Smith, a marketing director in San Francisco, says she chooses not to rely on a gun for personal safety, but rather focuses on ways to reduce the likelihood of attracting criminals.

“I don’t want to have a loaded gun under my bed,” Ms. Smith says. “I wouldn’t sleep well.”

She has nothing against guns – she grew up in a family that used guns for recreation – but she says there are more effective things women can do for their personal security.

“Being aware of your neighborhood, making sure your curtains are closed, and having someone you can call will make more of a difference than having a gun,” Smith says.

Some gun-rights supporters – including women with guns – say some additional firearm controls, such as an assault-weapons ban and limits on high-capacity magazines, would help to curb gun violence. 

“Handguns are more than enough for a woman to protect herself,” says Tom Cheffro, owner of Boston Firearms Training Center.

Amy Forbes, a teacher from Peabody, Mass., took Mr. Cheffro’s firearm safety training course so that she can apply for her firearm’s license and eventually buy a gun – one that would be easy for her to handle.

“You just don’t know what will happen,” Ms. Forbes says. During the hands-on training course, she learned safe handling and shooting techniques, which she says make her feel prepared for owning a weapon and defending herself.

But she supports stricter background checks for all gun sales to try to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental-health issues.

“I would support requiring a doctor’s note before being able to get a gun license, so people have to prove they are mentally stable,” says Forbes.

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