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March 10, 2013
Editorial: Actually, more laws can reduce gun violence. Study looks at firearm-related deaths

(March 10 -- By the Editorial Board)

As Congress and legislatures across the country debate new gun legislation, pro-gun advocates respond by arguing that more restrictions do nothing to keep guns out of the wrong hands or to reduce gun violence.

True, no law will stop all gun-related violence. However, research published online in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine shows that states with the most gun control laws generally had the lowest rates of death by firearms.

The study compared gun laws in the 50 states against the number of suicides and homicides committed with firearms between 2007 through 2010.

The researchers noted there were 73,702 suicides with firearms between 2007 and 2010, and 47,382 homicides. The overall firearm fatality rate was 9.9 for every 100,000 people per year.

Louisiana, a state with few gun restrictions, had the highest firearm fatality rate, 17.9 per 100,000 population. Hawaii, a state with strict gun laws, had the lowest rate, 2.9 firearm deaths per 100,000 people.

California, judged to have the second most restrictive firearm laws after Massachusetts during the study period, had eight firearm deaths - four suicides and four homicides - for every 100,000 population.

Nevada, a state with few restrictions, had almost 15 firearm-related deaths for every 100,000 residents, including the fourth highest rate of suicide of any state. Arizona, another state with few restrictions, had 13.6 firearm deaths for every 100,000 people.

Dr. Eric Fleegler, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Boston Children's Hospital and lead author of the study, told the Boston Globe: "Critics of gun laws have said that gun laws don't work, but our research indicates the opposite."

Dr. Garen Wintemute, a UC Davis Medical School professor and firearm violence researcher, pointed to shortcomings in the study. The research does not, for example, measure differences in laws enacted by the states, or the effectiveness with which states enforce their laws.

The study also did not evaluate the impact from the flow of firearms into states with tight gun restrictions such as California from states such as Nevada, which has loose gun laws.

"Frustrated policymakers sometimes ask to hear from one-armed scientists, to avoid 'on the one hand ... on the other hand' summations of the evidence that end with competing recommendations. Here, there can be no recommendation at all. It is as if the scientists have both hands tied behind their backs," Wintemute wrote in a comment that accompanied the JAMA article.

The Boston study offers an intriguing glimpse into the impact of gun restrictions. But its shortcomings make clear the need to fully fund research into gun violence. There is no legitimate reason to restrict science.

In the thrall of gun advocates, Congress long ago restricted the ability of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to undertake and fund serious research on the topic.

After the Newtown slaughter, President Barack Obama called for an end to restrictions on research funding. That could turn out to be Obama's most far-reaching recommendation to curb gun-related violence.

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