Gun control laws that mandate a background check before a gun can be temporarily transferred to a friend or family member may interfere with suicide prevention efforts, researchers say.
The research team looked at what happens when people want to temporarily remove firearms from their home because they fear someone in the house might be considering a suicide attempt. In some states, they found, gun control laws may actually hamper the ability to easily transfer a gun temporarily to reduce suicide risk.
What's needed, according to Jon S. Vernick of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore and colleagues, are laws that allow for temporary storage of guns by federally licensed firearm dealers, law enforcement officers, family members and friends.
The research was published this week in an issue of JAMA Internal Medicine focusing on firearm violence.
In a separate paper in the same issue, public health researchers from Boston argue that in order to reduce gun suicides, health care professionals need to work with, and not against, gun shop owners, firearm instructors and gun rights stakeholders. Rather than squaring off against one another, they say, these groups should "jointly devise strategies to put time and distance between a suicidal person and a firearm."
Another study found that after Florida passed its "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law, suicide rates held steady but the number of homicides and homicides by firearm went up significantly.
Strengthening certain kinds of gun laws may help reduce rates of firearm homicides, data show. "Not surprisingly, laws that strengthen background checks and laws requiring permit to purchase are associated with lower firearm homicide rates," said Dr. Lois Lee, a researcher at Boston Children's Hospital who led another of the studies.
But laws to reduce firearm trafficking, improve child safety and ban military-style assault weapons were not tied to reduced homicides, her team found. Attempts to regulate gun carrying produced mixed results.
"Legislation is just one part of a multipronged approach that will be necessary to decrease firearm homicides in the United States," Lee's team writes.
Among the other topics tackled in the new series of papers is victims' ability to sue gun manufacturers.
The families of some of the 26 victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut asked the state's supreme court on Tuesday to overturn a 2014 dismissal of their lawsuit against Remington Arms, which makes the weapon used in the attack. (http://reut.rs/2fTyWPr)
"We view (firearm violence) as a public health priority and an area where research has been relatively neglected compared to other areas in part because of the difficulties of conducting research," Dr. Robert Steinbrook, editor in charge of JAMA Internal Medicine, told Reuters Health in an interview.
Ted Alcorn, who analyzed trends in firearm violence research, reported in a letter published with this week's papers that the annual number of studies on the subject did not grow between 1998 and 2012.
Alcorn, who works for Everytown for Gun Safety, based in New York City, pointed out in his letter, "In the 1980s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initiated research on firearm injuries, but, in 1996, Congress forbade the agency from spending funds to 'advocate or promote gun control.' Its spending on firearm injury research fell 96 percent by 2012."
He told Reuters Health in an interview, "We would expect the field to continue to grow and our population of scientist to grow, but it didn't in the 1990s, it basically flatlined."
Today, he says in his letter, there are few active researchers.
In a prepared statement, Steinbrook, the journal editor, said, "With the 2016 Presidential and Congressional elections behind us, there is again an opportunity for the United States to respond to firearm violence with high-quality research and effective policies and laws, not political posturing and heated rhetoric."
Steinbrook, who is affiliated with the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, told Reuters Health that gun violence is "an important public health problem in addition to being an important law enforcement problem."
"These issues are complex," he said.