Intended for healthcare professionals


Elimination of firearms would do little to reduce premature deaths

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 07 June 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:1693
  1. Paula Baillie-Hamilton, Former honorary registrar in radiologya
  1. a Auchleshie, Callander, Perthshire FK17 8LS

    Editor—John Gunn and colleagues suggest that doctors should be working towards the elimination of all firearms on the grounds that their removal would make an important contribution in reducing premature deaths.1 The medical profession prides itself on doing thorough research before introducing new drugs or methods. I therefore suggest that, before it embarks on any campaign, it looks at the size of the problem. In evidence to the Cullen inquiry the Home Office reviewed all homicides in England and Wales during 1992-4.2 Of a total of 2086 homicides, 196 were carried out with firearms. Of the 152 firearms that could be identified, 22 were legally owned, seven were believed to have been stolen from legal sources, and one was used by a member of the family of someone who owned it legally. An undisclosed subset of these firearms originated in the armed services. Thus at most a fifth originated from all legal sources. Most (at least 18) of the homicides were domestic. Outside the home the use of legal firearms is much lower, and the police have accepted a figure of 4% of all armed crime.3 The table 1shows the annual number of deaths from various causes in England and Wales, taking the worst possible figure for legal firearms (that is, (196/3)x20%).

    Table 1

    Number of deaths from various causes in England and Wales; worst possible figure for legal firearms was taken

    View this table:

    The medical profession has clearly been correct to campaign against smoking. Firearms are understandably emotive, but I suggest that their elimination would not make an important contribution in reducing premature deaths. The elimination of legally held firearms “surplus to domestic and industrial requirements,” as proposed by the authors, would be even less rewarding. Also, given that nearly a million people in Britain have legal firearms, any further controls are likely to be costly and counter productive.


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