Firearm Deaths and Social Ills

By Ik-Whan G. Kwon And Brad Scott | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), January 26, 1996 | Go to article overview

Firearm Deaths and Social Ills


Ik-Whan G. Kwon And Brad Scott, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Almost 20,000 laws and regulations in this country attempt to contain the use of firearms. Nevertheless, the number of deaths associated with gun related activity reached a record high of nearly 40,000 in 1992, almost surpassing the number of fatalities associated with automobile accidents.

The ever-increasing number of firearms-related deaths has led to emotional pleas for stiffer gun control laws and regulations. Gun-related fatalities have also helped to move the debate from a strict focus on the Second Amendment issue to health implications. The Brady Law was a product of this debate.

In spite of intensive debate on gun control, many people remain uninformed as to the effectiveness of gun laws and regulations. One side argues that the presence of a firearm in the home increases the likelihood of a gun fatality. It maintains that people who become gun fatalities also experienced alcohol, drug abuse and domestic violence at much higher rates than the national average.

Another school of thought argues that the presence of a firearm has a deterrent effect and that the availability of firearms does not increase one's likelihood of being killed. A Post-Dispatch survey on crime and safety published last August revealed that 30 percent of the respondents agreed that citizens should be allowed to carry a concealed weapon for protection. The same survey reported that 35 percent said they began keeping a gun in their home for protection the prior year (1994).

One benefit cited by those favoring waiting periods for the purchase of firearms is a reduction in the incidence of so-called crimes of passion. The prevailing logic is that a waiting period will deny irrational perpetrators access to the means (mainly guns) for violent action and force a cooling period. Under normal circumstances, people, especially those who would commit a crime out of passion, would not be willing to pay the price for the crime.

Studies of the effectiveness of gun control laws and regulations cannot, however, ignore other factors, especially socio-economic variables that may contribute to committing crimes. It is simplistic to exclude these variables from the policy-making process and to claim that gun control laws and regulations alone are solely responsible for any change in crime rates.

A study on the 1977 Canadian gun control law, for example, clearly demonstrates that the availability of firearms may not be as important a factor in homicide rates as many believe. According to the study, socio-economic factors - such as the unemployment rate, poverty, composition of races in a community and alcohol consumption - play a significant role in determining homicide rates.

The same study suggests that socially disenfranchised groups (such as minorities, the unemployed and alcoholics) face serious social problems disproportionately higher than the national average. …

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