Impact of Gun Control Legislation on Gun Deaths

A new study links gun control laws with a significant decrease in deaths caused by firearms.



Each year, more than 30,000 people are killed by firearms in the United States. In 2010 alone, 68 percent of the more than 16,000 murders recorded in the United States were carried out using firearms, while 51 percent of the more than 38,000 suicides were associated with the use of firearms. Recent mass shootings, including those in Colorado, Wisconsin and Connecticut, have further aggravated the ongoing debate by people on both sides of this issue, as new gun control legislation is being considered by Congress.

Amidst the vigorous and ongoing debate regarding gun control legislation, passionate claims are being made by those for and against such legislation. For example, one argument put forth by advocates of minimal (or no) gun control is that placing limitations, of any kind, on gun ownership is not an effective means of reducing deaths caused by firearms. Yet, there is fairly abundant research data available linking the presence of guns in the home with a significant increase in the risk of gun-associated death (compared to homes in which there are no firearms), including both homicides and suicides associated with the use of firearms.

The effectiveness of existing gun control laws has also been heavily debated by opposing camps, with little consensus being arrived at in this area. Now, a newly published public health study adds compelling data linking tighter gun ownership regulations with a lower overall risk of gun-associated deaths, including homicide and suicide. This new study appears in the current issue of the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

The authors of this study combined a review of firearms-related deaths in each state (using data from the Centers for Disease Control) with a review of existing gun control laws in each state. Following an analysis of this extensive data, the impact of gun control legislation on gun-associated deaths was then assessed for each state. The researchers also attempted to control for other socioeconomic and demographic factors known to be associated with gun-associated deaths, including age, gender, race/ethnicity, poverty, unemployment, level of education, population density, violence-related deaths not associated with firearms, and household firearm ownership.

Over the 4-year duration of this public health study, there were 121,084 gun-associated deaths in the United States. The average incidence of firearm-associated deaths varied significantly between individual states, ranging from a low of 2.9 per 100,000 people in Hawaii to a high of 17.9 per 100,000 people in Louisiana. Strikingly, states with the most stringent gun control laws had a 42 percent lower overall incidence of deaths associated with guns when compared with those states having the least stringent (or no) laws. More specifically, firearm-associated suicides were 37 percent less common in states with more stringent gun control laws, when compared to states with minimal or no gun control laws. Similarly, the incidence of firearm-associated murders was 40 percent lower in states with higher level gun control laws, compared to states with minimal or no firearms laws.

Taken together, the data presented in this landmark public health study significantly linked the presence of gun control laws with a marked decrease in firearms-associated deaths (including both suicides and murders), and the absence of such legislation was associated with a significant increase in gun-associated deaths.

I do not aim to take a “political side” in the ongoing debate regarding gun control legislation in this article. However, the findings of this study, as with prior public health studies, strongly link the presence of gun control legislation, at the individual state level, with a significant decrease in the incidence of gun-associated deaths, including both suicides and murders. Sadly, however, I do not think that studies such as this one, no matter how scientifically valid, will do much to change the tenor of the ongoing debate regarding gun control legislation, particularly since recent mass shootings in the United States, including the shocking murder of 26 elementary school children and their teachers on December 14, 2012 in Connecticut, appear to have done little to bridge the enormous gap between those favoring more rigorous gun control legislation and those who remain opposed to such legislation. That being said, I hope that those responsible for considering and enacting such legislation will pay attention to public health studies such as this one when it comes time for them to cast their votes….

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At this time, more than 8 percent of Americans are unemployed.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, the unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty between September 2001 and December 2011 is now more than 12 percent.  A new website, Veterans in Healthcare, seeks to connect veterans with potential employers.  If you are a veteran who works in the healthcare field, or if you are an employer who is looking for physicians, advanced practice professionals, nurses, corpsmen/medics, or other healthcare professionals, then please take a look at Veterans in Healthcare. As a retired veteran of the U.S. Army, I would also like to personally urge you to hire a veteran whenever possible.

Disclaimer:  As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity

Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author


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