From The Economist, March 2nd 2002

Bang, bang, you're dead

The gun lobby argues that guns don't kill people; people do. Yet a study of scholars at the Harvard School of Public Health, published in February's Journal of Trauma, finds that, when it comes to killing children, guns do help.

Firearms kill more children in the United States than any other cause except motor-vehicle crashes and cancer. Over the period studied, 1988-97, nearly 7,000 children aged between five and 14 were killed with firearms. Before an American child reaches 15, he or she is 12 times more likely to die of gunshot wounds than a child anywhere else in the industrialised world.

But is it the guns that matter, or the kind of people who own them? The study's authors, Matthew Miller, Deborah Azreal and David Hemenway, find that states with a lot of guns have higher rates of gun suicide, homicide and deadly accidents among children aged between five and 14, even after allowing for factors such as poverty, education level and urbanisation. Yet those states do not have a higher rate of suicide by means other than guns.

Incidence of suicide, homicide and gun accidents 5-14 year olds, 1988-97:

  High-gun states Low-gun states
Gun suicides 153 22
Non-gun suicides 69 82
Gum homicides 298 86
Non-gun homicides 143 110
Gun accident deaths 253 15

Children in the five states with the highest rate of gun ownership (Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and West Virginia) were 16 times more likely to die from a gun accident in the decade studied than children in the five states with the lowest rate of gun ownership (Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Delaware). Children in the "high-gun states" were also seven times more likely to die from a gun suicide and three times more likely to die from a gun homicide.

It is possible, as the authors point out, that people who live in states with high rates of child homicide may buy guns to protest themselves. But that cannot explain the relationship between guns and suicide and accidents. The lesson is simple. More guns kill more children.

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