Do Gun Law Restrictions Work?

Those opposed to gun safety provisions (a.k.a. gun control legislation) argue that laws  will not prevent criminals from obtaining firearms illegally.  A recent commentary in NY Times provides some data that shows that states with more gun safety provisions have lower levels of gun-related deaths (especially suicides).

NY Times: A Gun Killed My Son. So Why Do I Want to Own One?

Related blog posts:

NY Times: End the Gun Epidemic in America

Full link: End the Gun Epidemic in America.  This editorial published on A1 in the Dec. 5 edition of The New York Times. It is the first time an editorial has appeared on the front page since 1920.

An excerpt:

It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency. These are weapons of war, barely modified and deliberately marketed as tools of macho vigilantism and even insurrection. America’s elected leaders offer prayers for gun victims and then, callously and without fear of consequence, reject the most basic restrictions on weapons of mass killing, as they did on Thursday. They distract us with arguments about the word terrorism. Let’s be clear: These spree killings are all, in their own ways, acts of terrorism.

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Physician narrative on gun control

Recent commentaries offer several physician viewpoints on this problem (NEJM 2013; 368: 397-99, 399-400, 401-403).  For me, the following points were of most interest:

  • 88 Americans died every day from firearm violence in 2011; high-profile events like Sandy Hook, Aurora, Virginia Tech and Columbine are uncommon.
  • In California, background checks are required on all firearm purchases and this has been associated with a 23% reduction in firearm-related crime.  Though, this policy is hampered by neighboring state policies.  In Reno, Nevada, about 1/3rd of the cars at gun shows are from California.
  • In 2010, 6570 deaths in children/young persons (1-24 yrs) were due to gun-related injuries. Gun-related fatalities cause twice as many deaths as cancer, five times as many as heart disease, and fifteen times as many as infections.
  • Suicide attempts with drugs are lethal in <5% whereas 90% involving guns are lethal.
  • The authors advocate for better background checks, a ban on assault weapons, limits on ammunition capacity, and removing restrictions on the collection of public health data regarding gun-related injuries.

In a previous blog about the problem of obesity, I referenced the “issue-attention cycle” problem.  ”This pattern occurs when initial public alarm over the discovery of a problem and optimism about its quick resolution are replaced by the realization that solving the problem will require some public sacrifice and will displace powerful societal interests.”

Despite the high toll exacted by gun violence, will there be enough staying power to work on these incremental steps?