Despite claims that owning a gun makes a person feel safer and sleep easier, gun owners don’t actually sleep any better than non-gun owners, according to a new study by University of Arizona researcher Terrence Hill, PhD.
The findings help researchers better understand the relationship between gun ownership and personal well-being, an area where research is currently lacking, says Hill, an associate professor of sociology in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

“We want to understand gun owners’ subjective experiences,” Hill says in a release. “We’re trying to understand when guns promote individual well-being, if at all, and that will add to the discussion of the role of guns in our society.”

Published in the journal Preventive Medicine, the sleep study was based on four years of data collected for the General Social Survey between 2010 and 2018. The data showed no difference between gun owners and non-gun owners in terms of their level of sleep disturbance.

The researchers also looked at how participants felt about the safety of their neighborhoods. When they compared sleep disturbance in gun owners and non-gun owners who lived in dangerous neighborhoods, they again saw no difference.

“We found that gun ownership was no consolation for living in a dangerous neighborhood in terms of the sleep disturbance outcome,” Hill says.

Hill says the idea that guns can help people sleep better at night is often presented by interest groups, popular culture, and even commercial products, such as bedside gun holsters or special pillows with gun compartments that allow people to sleep with or near their weapon. As a medical sociologist, Hill says it’s his job to question those types of claims through research.

“Whenever people start to promote a certain type of lifestyle—like a type of exercise or a diet—public health is there to test it,” he says. “We think if anybody makes a claim about how guns are good for people’s health and wellbeing, those claims should be formally tested with empirical data. We need to test those claims like we would test any dietary or exercise recommendation.”

Hill says he hopes his continued research on guns and personal well-being will encourage greater public conversation about the role of guns in society.

“Public health research has shown that guns are associated with thousands of preventable injuries and premature deaths, and the health care costs of those injuries and deaths can reach into the billions. Nobody questions that anymore,” Hill says. “But there’s not much research out there on the personal well-being side of owning guns. We want people to start talking more about the role of guns in people’s personal lives, and, ultimately, this is a broader question for society about the value of guns in our lives. The question really is: Do guns make our personal lives better?”