At first glance, one might intuitively think that greater gun ownership would lead to a greater number of gun deaths. There are many who argue that the actual relationship between these two factors is actually the reverse; greater gun ownership leads to greater capacity for self-defense, and therefore fewer gun deaths. But before one can address the issue of whether gun ownership leads to more or fewer gun deaths, one must define the terms.
Gun ownership, as a term, is misleading; according to statistics from vpc.org, 10% of the adult population owns 77% of the total number of guns in America. Increasingly, a small group of people are coming to represent a greater and greater portion of total American gun ownership. This small group of people includes gang members and other criminals, those individuals who use the guns to perpetrate violent acts.
Gun deaths, as well, need to be defined. If one simply defines gun deaths as “deaths which are caused by the firing of a gun,” then gun deaths encompass any number of acts, which the primary concerns may not apply to. Gun deaths in this case, for instance, would also cover suicides committed by people using guns, and these suicides, in turn, account for 50% of gun deaths.
If one instead goes to the CDC website, and, using their criteria, narrows down the search options to look for all homicides caused by firearms, then one would find out that there were actually only 4.27 gun deaths per 100,000 in the year of 2006.
For violence-related gun deaths, the number rises to 9.93 gun deaths per 100,000, again in 2006. So the term gun deaths should likely relate primarily to violence or homicide related gun deaths, as any other definition is too broad.
There have been studies that do actually link greater gun ownership with greater rates of gun deaths per 100,000. Louisiana, for instance, has a household gun ownership percentage of 45.6% and a gun death rate per 100,000 of 19.58. Hawaii, on the other hand, has a household gun ownership percentage of 9.7%, and a rate of 2.58 gun deaths per 100,000 people. These statistics would support the idea that greater gun ownership would lead to a greater number of gun deaths in any given state.
But there are other societal factors, as well. In certain environments, thanks to dangerous influences, gun deaths can skyrocket alongside gun ownership, simply because of the nature of the location. In urban environments with many gangs, for instance, gun ownership itself is not only likely to rise, but so are gun deaths. A large portion of gun deaths of young people, from ages 14 to 19, is due to intentional homicides, likely caused in gang conflicts.
In such environments, it would seem that the link between gun ownership and gun deaths does pan out, but just as much because of external factors, leading to greater gun ownership and gun usage, as because of the simple relationship between gun ownership and gun deaths.
The question of whether gun ownership causes more gun deaths still remains debated by scholars and scientists today, as they endlessly reinterpret data. It is fundamentally tied up with the issue at hand, a likely no answer will ever fully be agreed upon.