Study Ties Drop in Gun-Related Deaths in Capital to Tough Law

Share via

The gun control law in the District of Columbia, one of the nation’s toughest, reduced gun-related homicides an average of 25% from its adoption in 1976 until 1987 and has kept the city’s record homicide rate of the last few years from climbing even higher, according to a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The enactment of the law, which prohibits the sale, purchase, transfer or possession of handguns, except by owners of previously registered guns, also coincided with a 23% decline in the number of suicides by firearms over the same period, according to the study by researchers at the University of Maryland.

The study concluded that the law prevented an average of 47 deaths each year after it was implemented. The last year for which statistics were available was 1987.


While the researchers cautioned that the results shown for the District of Columbia would not necessarily be duplicated elsewhere, they said that the study provides strong evidence that strict handgun laws reduce gun-related homicides and suicides.

In an editorial accompanying the article, Journal editor Jerome Kassirer said that the findings are consistent with other studies, and he urged doctors to take an active role in promoting gun control.

“The death rate from guns has long been a national disgrace,” he said, calling for doctors to fight for a strict nationwide gun control policy. “Now that we have the data, we must have the will.”

Specifically, the study said that gun-related homicides in the District of Columbia occurred at a mean rate of 13 per month from 1968 to 1976 and declined to a mean of 9.7 per month between 1976 and 1987.

While acknowledging that the homicide rate in the District of Columbia had reached record proportions in the last few years, the researchers speculated that the numbers would have risen even higher without the law. So far this year, District of Columbia police have recorded 454 homicides, 353 involving guns--a rate far exceeding that in the study period.