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Monday, 31 December 2012

Gun control - can we take another shot at peace in 2013?

The rhetorical question may well be if the executive director of the National Rifle Association were shot, would there be a legitimate argument that the action was in self-defense?

The second US amendment that provides for the right to bear arms was written in 1791 when  guns were limited to single shot muskets  that lacked automation, lacked multiple chambers and lacked the ability to be concealed. Each year somewhere between 10 and 15 Million guns are sold in the US.  That annual amount exceeds the total number of guns that were registered in Canada when the long gun registery was scrapped.

For this right that the NRA has steadfastly defended, one could estimate an excess of 10,000 American deaths per year.  Given the excess has existed for at least the last 50 years, it would be reasonable to assume that somewhere between half and one million excess Americans have died as a result of the broad interpretation of the second amendment.   While those numbers have actually decreased since the peak in the early 90’s, they have plateaued at about the level of the 70’s. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ushomicidesbyweapon.svg

No single effort in gun control will buck the US trend, or modify Canadian behaviours.   As noted, the objective analysis of the long gun registry had little impact on Canadian gun related violence http://drphealth.blogspot.ca/2011/11/gun-control-fluoridation-and-publics.html .  It is the other measures of gun control that may be effective:

                Strict limitations on assault and semi-automatic weapons
                Limitations on handguns
                Preclusion or limitation on concealed firearms
                Preclusion or limitation on gun modifications such as suppressors, reduction in barrel length
                Firearm safety training
                Development and distribution of toy facsimiles
                Limitations on ammunition including explosive or body armour piercing
                Storage and maintenance
                Restriction on movement of firearms

The challenge for countries like the US is to being developing a culture where any of these can be considered acceptable limitations.  Not all would be considered acceptable on day one, but the path to improvement is only begun by starting with the easiest of the restrictions and moving forward.   For a country where an estimated 40-50% of homes have a gun, making policy shifts will be difficult, however some surveys suggest fewer homes now own guns with ranges between 33-40%.   The Harvard review on gun control issues is a sturdy resource to work with Harvard injury portal  

Note that in Canada, estimates are that one-quarter of households own at least one firearm, most being long guns.  A full summary of Canadian firearm use is accessible at justice link on firearms in Canada  

There are an estimate 88 guns per 100 people in the US and 30 guns per 100 people in Canada.  While ownership is somewhere between one-third and one-half, firearm death rates are between one-quarter and one-third.   Ecologically comparisons are fraught with fallacies, but one might note that Japan with strict gun controls as a firearm death rate that is only 2% of Canada.  Even the UK’s rate is 15% of the Canadian rate.
The hidden question that needs to be stated in this debate, is why is the NRA so powerful? and where does it get its resources from?  Yes, it has a broad membership, but so do nursing and medical associations.  One cannot image that the names of Winchester, Reminington, Magnum, Smith & Wesson, among the over 100 US gun manufacturers,  are not key funders and supporters of the NRA given the tens of millions of firearm units sold each year.  Rarely are the industry representatives actively involved, strongly suggesting the NRA has become a business lobby group - not a protector of the US right to defend oneself.

Gun control is life protecting, and just as any other public health problem – North Americans are faced with a public health situation that could be improved through a continuous concerted effort. 

May 2013 bring peace to us all. 

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