Afterword (2006)
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Afterword (2006) Private Guns, Public Health was completed in the fall of 2003. Over the next two years, the scientific literature reaffirmed the conclusions of the book. What follows is a brief summary of some of the more important findings from the recent literature through the end of 2005. 1. Guns and American Society Scope of the Gun Problem.   The United States continues to have by far the largest number of privately owned firearms in the developed world, almost three hundred million, about one for every man, woman, and child (Small Arms Survey 2003; Harvard Injury Control Research Center [HICRC] 2004). These guns kill some eighty Americans a day. Deaths occur at similar rates in both urban and rural areas—firearm homicides occur disproportionately in urban areas, while firearm suicides occur disproportionately in rural areas (Branas et al. 2004). The gun problem in the United States is not just an urban problem. A professor of insurance at the Wharton School estimates that firearm deaths shorten the life of an average American by 104 days. If all firearm deaths were eliminated, a typical twenty-five-year-old would find that life insurance premiums on a twenty-year term insurance policy would be 10 percent lower (Lemaire 2005). A study examining county-level data found that higher gun ownership levels were linked to higher homicide rates. Excluding the effects of firearms on suicide and accidents, the authors estimate that the social costs of household gun ownership are between $100 and $600 per year. Economists tend to favor taxes that would internalize such external costs (Cook and Ludwig 2004b). 227 3. Gun-Related Death and Injury Gun Accidents.   Studies in the past two years confirmed earlier findings that, after controlling for a variety of factors, in states with higher levels of household gun ownership there are more unintentional gun deaths (Price et al. 2004; Miller, Azrael, Hemenway et al. 2005). Having a gun readily accessible (e.g. loaded, unlocked) is also associated with higher rates of unintentional firearm death (Miller, Azrael, Hemenway et al. 2005). Through a Web-based clipping service, each week I receive scores of news articles involving gun-related issues. The following is a tiny sample of news articles from the past two years concerning firearm accidents. The articles show, among other things, that guns are dangerous and that even trained users, such as police, can have accidents: “Kennesaw police trainee dies after accidental shooting” (when the instructor’s gun went off during firearms training) (Plummer 2005) “Officer’s weapon accidentally discharges in Anderson county school” (after students asked the school resource officer how his holster worked) ( 2005) “Police captain shoots himself by accident at subway stop” (twenty-year veteran was unloading his gun) (O’Connor 2005) “Officer on toilet accidentally fires gun” (he was lowering his trousers when his pistol fell from his waistband; when he fumbled for the falling firearm, it went off twice) (AP 2005b) “Accidental shooting” (Sedgwick county sheriff shoots self at a shooting range) (Simon 2004) “Ex-cop charged with manslaughter” (he had twenty-eight years of experience in handling firearms, but when his pager went off, he accidentally dropped his holstered gun; when he fumbled to catch the weapon, it fired a single bullet into the right side of an eighteen-year-old deli worker) (Hays 2004) AFTERWORD 228 “Coroner discussing gun safety shoots self” (while demonstrating gun safety, he checked to make sure the gun was unloaded; it discharged into his leg; “I’ve always been very, very safe”) (AP 2004a) “DEA agent shoots self in leg during gun-safety class for kids” (Johnson 2004) “Officer hit in buttocks when own gun goes off during ACC game” (during a Wake Forest–Maryland basketball game, an off-duty Baltimore police detective, a friend of the Baltimore Ravens owner, accidentally shot himself in the hip) (Siegel 2004) “Officer shoots wife” (gun discharged in his home while he was handling it) (Washington Post 2003) “Police officer accidentally killed while cleaning gun” (served for twenty-two years, receiving two medals for meritorious service) (AP 2003b) A mantra of the gun lobby is that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people .” But even animals near guns can be dangerous: “Cat shoots owner” (a man cooking in his kitchen was shot after one of his cats knocked his 9mm handgun onto the floor, discharging the weapon) (AP 2005a) “Duck hunter shot by dog in hunting mishap” (a hunting dog stepped on a loaded shotgun, firing a...