Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Gun Violence

Reviving research into US gun violence

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 14 February 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f980
  1. Michael McCarthy, editor,
  1. 1Seattle, Washington
  1. mxmc{at}

Michael McCarthy looks at whether events at Sandy Hook Elementary School are paving the way to reopen research into guns

In January, in response to the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 schoolchildren and six adults dead, US president Barack Obama issued 23 executive orders to deal with gun violence in America.1

Among those was an order directing the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research the causes and prevention of gun violence, an order directing the US Attorney General to issue a report on new gun safety technology, and an order clarifying that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the president’s 2010 health reform law, “does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.”

That it was necessary for the president to issue executive orders directing actions in a country that sees more than 31 000 killed from gunshot wounds each year surprised many.

But for 17 years, legislation has been on the books banning or severely constraining government initiatives to reduce gun violence and gun related injuries.

In his statement announcing his executive actions, Obama denounced in particular efforts to deny federal funding for scientific and medical research into the causes of gun violence. “We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence,” Obama said.

For much of the 20th century, gun violence in the US had been considered a law enforcement issue. But in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a series of reports and workshops started to recast the issue as a public health problem and calling for a far broader societal …

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