Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Editorial: Gun control can reduce deaths

After the sheer horror of the December shootings in Newtown, Conn., there was little doubt that a progressive state like Maryland would pursue some form of gun control. Indeed, that debate has been among the more dominant during this session of the General Assembly.

As lawmakers sit on the verge of a deal that would make Maryland’s gun laws among the strictest in the nation, it’s necessary to point out to critics that while gun control does not absolutely prevent terrible crimes from being committed, it certainly serves as a hindrance. That has value in and of itself.

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s bill proposed banning assault weapons, limiting magazine capacity to 10 bullets, setting mandatory licensing and fingerprinting of purchasers and limiting purchases for people who have mental health problems.

On Wednesday, the House approved strict measures in line with O’Malley’s proposal; the bill now heads back to the Senate.

David Hemenway, director of Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center, has done extensive research on the relationship between guns and death and come to the following conclusions, all of which make a strong case that some form of gun control is better than none at all:

-Case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the U.S. where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.

-After controlling for poverty and urbanization, for every age group, people in states with many guns have elevated rates of homicide, particularly firearm homicide.

-States with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide. This relationship held for both genders and all age groups, after accounting for rates of aggravated assault, robbery, unemployment, urbanization, alcohol consumption and resource deprivation (e.g., poverty). There was no association between gun prevalence and non-firearm homicide.

Put more simply, easier access to guns means more people will die from them, regardless of whether the relationship is causative or merely correlative. The question here is what value American society places on human life. If the data are clear that more firearms in circulation means more deaths, is it not worth some additional administrative obstacles to gun access?

In January, the world’s leading gun policy experts convened at the Johns Hopkins University to devise research-based policies to reduce gun violence in the United States, where the rate of homicides by firearms is 20 times greater than in other advanced nations.

Their recommendations are similar to many of the measures in O’Malley’s bill.

If data aren’t strong enough indicators that something should be done to reduce access to firearms, here are two stories that might convince skeptics.

Just this week, on Tuesday, a 15-year-old brought a loaded .22-caliber handgun to Glen Burnie High School in Anne Arundel County. A school secretary had a hunch that something was awry and began questioning the student, at which point two other administrators intervened and confiscated the pistol.

In another case, an excellent recounting by The Baltimore Sun of the August shooting at Perry Hall High School reveals that Robert Gladden Jr. intended to do serious harm to his classmates and others when he took his father’s shotgun to school. He sent this text to a friend before the shooting: “I’m either gunna go strait to mrs blakes room or wait until lunch and just shoot everyone lol,”

Gladden shot only one person that day: Daniel Borowy, a student with Down syndrome who has since returned to school. According to The Sun’s account, Daniel’s father said it’s unclear whether Daniel fully understands what happened.

In this case, it took intervention from a brave guidance counselor to prevent further harm.

More stringent gun laws in Maryland would not have guaranteed that Gladden could not have obtained his father’s shotgun or that the Glen Burnie teen wouldn’t have access to a small pistol. What they do is guarantee that fewer guns will be as easily obtained, and that reduces the general opportunity for access.

Culture changes slowly. It’s not difficult to remember times when smoking was cool, lard was the flavor of choice and and “gentlemen’s” clubs were the venues of choice for business meetings. As Maryland residents learn from the academics, as well as the near-tragedies before their eyes, the gun culture that is deeply embedded in America might begin to wane, and the violence that has become so commonplace might begin to fade.

Making it harder to get guns is the first step in that process.