Every year some 25,000 Americans are killed in firearms-related homicides. This figure has helped make the U.S. one of the world's most violent countries -- so much so that it ought to be obvious that fewer gun-related homicides would occur if there were fewer guns floating around.
Yet such has been the relentless barrage of misinformation from the gun lobby that even this simple truth has become shrouded in a cloud of self-serving propaganda. That is why a study by University of Maryland researchers, published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, comes as a much-needed antidote.
The study examined rates of homicide and suicide in Washington, D.C., during the 11 years following enactment in 1976 of a city law banning the sale or possession of firearms. It found that homicides declined 25 percent and suicides 23 percent compared to the 10 years before the law went into effect. The study concluded that, other things being equal, the decline was directly attributable to the District's tough gun control law.
The article's appearance in a medical journal, moreover, emphasizes the growing trend to view gun violence as a public health issue as well as a criminal justice matter. Perhaps as many as a quarter of deaths by firearms are preventable -- school-age young people, for example, are now the one of the fastest-growing categories of gun offenders. The District's experience seems to suggest that even in the absence of national gun laws, cities can significantly reduce gun violence through legislation. Failure to do so will only compound a firearms-related homicide epidemic that the study's authors rightly term a national disgrace.