Friday, January 19, 2018


The debate about guns in the United States is clouded by too much rhetoric and too few facts. Slogans like "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," or More guns, less crime," may sound as though they convey useful information, but in fact they just add further cement to already polarized and fixed positions.

Las Vegas welcome sign adorned with flowers
a week after the October 1, 2017 mass shooting 
Credit: Wikipedia 

Readers may make of them what they will, but here are a few facts about guns and how they are used in the U.S.  They come from a study published in the journal Science on 8 December, 2017.

1. The U.S. is an extreme outlier among developed countries when it comes to guns and violence. The chance of being murdered by someone using a gun is 25 times higher in the U.S. than in other well-off countries, and the rate of suicides by gunshot is 8 times higher. A U.S. male between the ages of 15 and 24 is an astonishing 70 times more likely to die from gun violence than his peer in any of the other highly industrialized countries..

2. Death by gunshot is a major public health threat in the U.S., comparable to the number of deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents. One difference is that taking rational steps to reduce the risk of death or injury from motor vehicles is not highly politicized or controversial. The result is that the number of deaths per miles driven has plummeted by a factor of 25 since the 1920s.

3. You might suppose that the government would be interested in supporting research to understand the causes and possible ways to mitigate this important public-health problem, as it does with many other diseases and conditions. You would be wrong. In 1996, Congress passed the Dickey Amendment, which effectively killed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research program on gun violence.

4.Still, non-government researchers have continued to study gun violence and its prevention. These include researchers at many universities and in at least one state--California.

5. An intensive recent study by public-health and legal researchers at Stanford University, in California, and Duke University, in North Carolina, has established several factual reference points:

     --Add-on sentences for the use of guns in assaults and robberies cut the rate of those crimes by around 5 percent.

     --Laws preventing perpetrators of domestic violence from buying or possessing guns save lives, potentially thousands of them--reducing the murder rate for female intimate partners by 17 percent.

     --States with strict restrictions on carrying concealed weapons have significantly lower rates of violent crime than states with right-to-carry laws. Conversely, states that switch from restrictive to right-to-carry on average see a 9 percent increase in their homicide rates.

     --States with a high percentage of households with guns experience 3.6 times as many civilians killed by police than states with fewer households with guns.

If we have any hope of breaking out of the crippling polarization that prevents rational or even civil discourse on gun control here in the U.S., it must start with facts on which people can agree. Facts do not equal policy. But policy without facts is likely to be bad policy. And when it comes to guns, bad policy can and does cost thousands of lives.


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