Intended for healthcare professionals


Reducing gun deaths in the United States

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 01 May 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:1160

Personalised guns would help—and would be achievable

  1. Stephen P Teret, Professor and director,
  2. Daniel W Webster (, Assistant professor
  1. Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Center for Gun Policy and Research, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA

    The United States has again suffered tragic losses from gunfire within a school. As happened in Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Oregon, the students and faculty of the Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, became targets for young people carrying firearms, this time comprising an arsenal capable of killing 15 (including the assailants themselves) and wounding many more. The shooting on 20 April has been described as one of the deadliest school massacres in the nation's history. What are the options for preventing future massacres—in a nation that has steadfastly resisted the option adopted by other countries of severely restricting the ownership of guns?

    Gunfire in the United States now claims 34 000 lives annually. The citizens' stockpile of guns is measured at about 200 million. In the aftermath of schoolhouse slayings we have become accustomed to the litany of suggestions for prevention. These include calls for less violence on television and in movies and video games, the strengthening of family values, involvement of churches, construction of recreational facilities, and early identification and counselling of troubled youths. Though reducing exposure to media violence and teaching children to behave non-violently may be valuable, they alone will not eliminate school shootings. There are …

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