Aug. 13, 2012 --
The shooting deaths of three people near Texas A&M University today, making this the third major act of gun violence in the United States within the past 30 days, is bound to reignite a debate about gun control. The country was still reeling from the deadly tragedy at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., which left 12 people dead, and another act of domestic terrorism at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, leaving seven dead including the shooter. Colorado, Wisconsin and Texas aren't the only states to have their gun laws come under scrutiny following a shooting tragedy. Other states with even more lax laws have also drawn fire.
The killing of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old high school student who was unarmed at the time, stirred controversy over the application of justice in the shooting. Florida's gun ownership laws came under scrutiny. George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old shooter and self-described neighborhood watch captain, had a concealed carry permit, easily obtained in the state. Florida also has laws in place the protect the use of firearms. A 2005 "Stand Your Ground" law allows the use of deadly force if there's the reasonable expectation of a threat, even if the supposed attacker is unarmed.
Following a shooting in Tuscon, Ariz. on Jan. 8, 2011 that left congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded and resulted in the deaths of six people, Arizona's gun laws, considered among the nation's most lenient, drew widespread media attention. The state of Arizona allows anyone over age 21 to not only own a firearm, but also conceal a handgun without needing a permit. In fact, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill in January 2010 repealing a law requiring concealed-carry permits, according to NPR. Twice already this year, Arizona state lawmakers have considered two bills loosening gun ownership restrictions. One bill brought before the Arizona Senate would have allowed gun owners to carry concealed weapons on university campuses, a measure that stalled because of the controversy that ensued from the idea of allowing guns in schools. A second bill drafted in the Arizona House would allow gun owners to carry in public buildings, and is "quietly moving toward passage," according to the Arizona Republic. This photo shows ammunition being sold at the Pima County gun show in 2011 one week after the shooting in Tuscon.
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Nearly five years ago, 32 people at Virginia Tech were killed when a mentally ill student went a on a shooting spree before turning the gun on himself. Virginia's laws are similar to restrictions imposed by other states on gun ownership. The state requires permits for concealed carry, which is subject to a review process. The state also has a 22-year-old law requiring criminal background checks on gun sales -- a law which the current governor, Bob McDonnell, says he's evaluating in a January interview with the Virginian Pilot. The state, however, does have what gun control advocates call a major loophole: private dealers may sell firearms at gun shows without a background check. Without a background check, according to gun control proponents, criminals have ready access to weapons at gun shows. In 2011, an American-born al-Qaeda spokesman even encouraged potential terrorists in a video statement to take advantage of similar loopholes in the United States. In this photo, mourners hold a vigil following the Virginia Tech massacre.
Mississippi not only has some of the most permissive gun laws of any state; it also has the second-highest number of firearm-related fatalities per 100,000 people. A new law passed in Mississippi in December 2011 allows residents to carry guns in public places, including "bars, courthouses and college campuses," according to a UPI report. Mississippi also has highest "export rates" of any state, that is the number of guns sold in Mississippi to criminals who use them in another, according to a study led by a coalition called Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Mississippi might have the second-highest rate of gun-related fatalities, but Alaska leads the list -- and also has even more lax gun laws than Mississippi. Nearly 21 people in 100,000 die as a result of a firearm in Alaska. Like Arizona, Alaska law allows for anyone over 21 to purchase a firearm. The state also permits concealed and open carry. There are some restrictions in Alaska, however. While Arizona is currently considering a law allowing guns in public buildings, carrying weapons in these areas is prohibited by Alaska laws. Private business owners also are allowed to use their discretion as to whether they allow firearms in their establishments.
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Like its neighbor Arizona, New Mexico's lax gun ownership laws make it a prime location for buying guns for the purpose of interstate arms trafficking. New Mexico doesn't require permits for purchase, possession or open carry. Concealed carry permits require the completion of a gun safety course. Weapons used by drug cartels in Mexico often originate in the United States due to the ease with which criminals can buy guns and smuggle them across the border, as reported by CNN. These firearms are usually purchased in border states, like New Mexico.
Montana has limited restrictions on gun ownership, requiring permits only for concealed carry. In 2009, Montana passed the Montana Firearms Freedom Act (PDF), a bill that challenged federal authority of the state to regulate guns made and sold in Montana. The move proved controversial, and the bill has been tied up in the court system.
Discovery News: Guns
The number of children wounded or killed by gunshots has been climbing in recent years and states with high gun-ownership rates also tend to have lots of childhood firearm injuries, a new study shows.
While such a conclusion may seem obvious, epidemiological research in this field has been lacking because of pressure from some members of Congress to limit federally funded gun research for the past two decades.
The new report out today by a Boston medical student and his advisor at Harvard Medical School provides some intriguing, and disturbing, trends. With nearly 7,500 children wounded and 500 killed each year, they found that the big problem is actually handguns.
“Our data shows that handguns are responsible for more hospitalizations and in-hospital deaths than any other firearm type,” said Arin Madenci, a surgical resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who conducted the study while a student at the University of Michigan School of Medicine. “While public health resources and policies have largely focused on military-style semi-automatic assault weapons, it may be more crucial to intervene on handguns.”
Madenci and Christopher Weldon, professor of surgery at the Harvard Medical School, compared household gun ownership and childhood gun violence across the 50 U.S. states. They used figures from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a database of personal health data maintained by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta since 1993.
Between 1997 and 2009, hospitalizations from gunshot wounds increased from 4,270 to 7,730, while in-hospital deaths rose from 317 to 503. The report is being presented today at the American Academy of Pediatrics conference in Orlando.
“Based on our research, we know that there is a clear correlation between household gun ownership (and gun safety practices) and childhood gunshot wounds in the home on a large scale,” Madenci said in an email to Discovery News.
Madenci said he didn’t have enough data to determine whether guns in specific homes were responsible for these deaths or injuries, but said it is something they plan to answer in future studies. He said he decided to look at the question of gun ownership and childhood gun deaths after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. One expert says the study should not come as a big surprise.
“It’s consistent with general theory which is that greater exposure leads to greater risk,” said Daniel Webster, professor and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.
Webster said that Congress has eliminated federal funding for research into the causes of gun violence since the early 1990s under pressure from the National Rifle Association. President Obama used executive powers to restore funding after the Newtown shootings, and the National Institutes of Health has just released its first request for applications for studies in this field.
“I see this as a huge step forward,” Webster said.