6 - Law and Policy Approaches to Keeping Guns from High-Risk People  pp. 153-184

Law and Policy Approaches to Keeping Guns from High-Risk People

By Jon S. Vernick, Daniel W. Webster and Katherine A. Vittes

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INTRODUCTION

Public Health Problem of Gun Violence in the United States

The United States is often described as a nation with a car culture. Many Americans love their cars and find life difficult to imagine without them. There were approximately 250 million registered highway vehicles in the United States in 2006.

If this is evidence for a car culture, then the United States certainly has a gun culture as well. There are an estimated 280 million guns in private hands in the United States, nearly one gun for every man, woman, and child. Approximately two-thirds of these guns are rifles and shotguns, used mostly for hunting and sport. Nearly all of the rest are handguns whose owners cite personal protection as the primary reason for ownership. About 38 percent of U.S. households contain at least one gun, with a higher prevalence of ownership in southern and southwestern states as well as more rural parts of the country.

The social consequences of the ubiquity of guns in the United States are profound. Firearms were associated with about 100,000 fatal and nonfatal shootings in the nation in 2006. Of these shootings, about 65 percent were instances in which one person intended to harm another (approximately 13,000 homicides and another 52,000 nonfatal assaults). The remainder includes 20,000 acts of self-directed violence (suicides and suicide attempts) and more than 15,000 unintentional or accidental shootings, including 600 deaths.

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