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GUN WATCH : Facts Don’t Kill People

Guns don’t kill people, goes the wearisome litany from the gun lobby, people kill people. What that disingenuous play with words tries to obscure is the inescapable fact that guns do indeed kill people--and in appallingly large numbers--when people point them at human flesh and pull their triggers. FBI figures in 1989 found that deaths from firearms now rank among the top 10 causes of mortality in the United States. Nearly 10,000 Americans die each year from gun-caused homicides, nearly 20,000 use guns to kill themselves.

Would tougher controls on guns reduce this frightful toll? In 1976 the District of Columbia enacted a law banning the purchase, sale, transfer or possession of handguns by civilians. The result, finds a special study in the New England Journal of Medicine, was an abrupt decline--averaging 47 deaths a year--in homicides and suicides by firearms. “No such decline was observed for homicides and suicides in which guns were not used,” the study said.

It’s beyond argument that easy access to guns invites their violent use, against others or one’s self. What of the claim by gun advocates that firearms are necessary to protect homes from intruders? An accompanying editorial in the New England Journal, citing a 1986 report, notes the staggering fact that studies of firearm-related deaths in the home show that a gun is more than 40 times likelier to be used in suicides, criminal homicides and accidental deaths than in self-defense.

Tougher gun laws can significantly reduce the toll. The District of Columbia’s experience makes that clear.

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