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Gun Laws Probe Comes Up Blank

Lack of evidence makes it tough to rate their effectiveness

THURSDAY, Oct. 2, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- An independent panel has found "insufficient evidence" to rate the effectiveness of various gun laws in the United States.

This is not the same thing as saying existing laws don't work to curb violence.

"When we conclude insufficient evidence, this means we do not know what effect this has on outcome," Dr. Jonathan Fielding, chairman of the Task Force on Community Preventive Services, said at a news teleconference Thursday. "We do not mean it has no impact."

Fielding and his colleagues are recommending more, better quality studies to try to discern the effectiveness of these laws.

This conclusion, or lack thereof, is part of the Guide to Community Preventive Services, being developed by the task force to promote public health and safety.

The task force did find strong evidence to support home-visitation programs, in which health professionals counsel "high-risk" families to head off problems, such as abuse.

Both analyses appear in the Oct. 3 edition of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The full findings will appear in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2004.

According to the report, firearms-related injuries in the United States were the second leading cause of death from injury in 2000. There were 28,663 firearms-related deaths that year, an average of 79 a day.

Guns remain ubiquitous in American society, with about 4.5 million new firearms sold every year and about 192 million working firearms owned by American adults, an average of one per adult, the task force said.

The task force reviewed 51 existing studies that had analyzed bans on specific firearms or ammunition; restrictions on firearm acquisition; waiting periods for firearm acquisition, firearm registration and licensing of firearm owners; "shall issue" concealed weapon carry laws; child access prevention laws; zero tolerance for firearms in schools programs; and combinations of different laws.

The problem? "Unreliable data, inappropriate analysis and inconsistent results," Fielding said.

But these problems are nothing new, say other public safety experts.

"It's not surprising at all to learn that they didn't come to any conclusions because the underlying problem is, we have pathetic data collection on guns in this country," said Kristen Rand, legislative director for the Violence Policy Center, in Washington, D.C. "There is no systematic data collection like we have for automobile crashes."

Dr. Sue Binder, director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, who also spoke at the teleconference, said the CDC is working to improve data collection with a National Violence Death Reporting System. This will look to connect data on gun violence from numerous sources, including emergency rooms, as well as coroners', medical examiners' and police reports.

Others point to more nefarious obstacles to gauging gun violence.

"The gun lobby has been very successful at stopping the CDC and others from conducting studies," said Eric Howard, spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Stop Gun Violence, in Washington, D.C.

As for childhood home-visitation programs, the task force did find sufficient evidence to draw a conclusion -- these programs might be able to prevent 40 percent of maltreatment episodes.

These are programs in which trained professionals visit children and parents in their home during the first two years of a child's life.

"Early childhood home visitations are indeed effective in high-risk families," Fielding said. "We mean those that include visits to the parents and children in homes by trained personnel who provide information, training and support on issues of child development and health."

On the basis of this evidence, the task force is recommending that these programs be implemented or continued.

Binder added, however, that such programs currently are not widespread. "We really think very few families at-risk are receiving this service," she said.

According to Binder, 900,000 children are abused or neglected each year and three to four die each day.

"We can prevent some of this," she said.

More information

For more on the task's force work, visit the Community Guide. The CDC has information on firearm-related injuries.

SOURCES: Kristen Rand, J.D., legislative director, Violence Policy Center, Washington, D.C.; Eric Howard, spokesman, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Washington, D.C.; Oct. 2, 2003, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention news teleconference with Sue Binder, M.D., director, CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and Jonathan E. Fielding, M.D., chairman, Task Force on Community Preventive Services; Oct. 3, 2003, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
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