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Do Gun Laws Help Reduce Violence?

Newswise - Despite the many laws that have been passed regarding gunregistration requirements, bans on specific firearms and"zero tolerance" policies for guns in schools, it?s stillnot known if these laws help prevent gun violence. The TaskForce on Community Preventive Services looked through eventsof the last 30 years and concluded that there was"insufficient evidence" to determine whether any of thefederal, state and local gun laws reviewed had an effect ongun-related deaths, violent crimes, suicides and otheroutcomes.

Dr. Robert Hahn, of the federal Centers for Disease Controland Prevention, says, "it is critical to note" that thisdoes not mean that gun laws are ineffective. "We mean simplythat we do not yet know what effects, if any, the laws have"on gun-related violence.

"Laws are a challenging area to research," says Hahn,because of poor or missing data, confusion over which lawsaffect which jurisdictions and underreporting of violentgun-related crimes. Nevertheless, Hahn and his colleaguesreviewed studies published between 1979 and March 2001 onfirearm laws and violence prevention. These studies comparedrates of gun-related violence among groups of people who hadlived under the laws with those who had not lived under thelaws or who had little exposure to them.

They studied the results of laws banning certain types ofguns or ammunition, such as fully automatic assault weaponsand the cheap handguns commonly known as "Saturday nightspecials." Others studies examined laws that restrictcertain people from buying guns, determine waiting periodsfor gun purchases, require gun registration, allow forconcealed weapon and impose "zero tolerance" for firearms inschools. These laws were instituted in various communitiesafter the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado.The federal Brady Law, which requires automatic backgroundchecks and a waiting period before a gun can be purchasedfrom a dealer, was among the laws reviewed. The task forcealso reviewed studies that looked at combinations of these laws.

In each case, the researchers could not find enough evidenceto suggest that the laws had any effect on a variety ofoutcomes, from homicides to aggravated assaults to suicides.

For instance, Hahn and colleagues found that the fivestudies of the 1976 ban on handguns in Washington, D.C. andits effects on the city's homicide rate were inconclusive.

However, it has been shown that keeping a gun locked andunloaded, and storing ammunition in a locked and separatelocation, can lower the risk of unintentional injuries andsuicide among youth.

As police officers know so well, the presence of a householdfirearm is associated with an increased risk of suicideamong adults and adolescents. In a study of teens whoattempted suicide, it was found that 75% of the guns usedwere stored in the residence of the victim, friend, orrelative. Another study found that 35% of homes in theUnited States with children younger than 18 years have atleast 1 firearm, and that 43% of these homes have at least 1unlocked firearm.

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