Here we are again. Less than a year ago, an editorial in the Journal by Kassirer reexamined the massive public health problem of gun violence in the United States,1 and a Perspective article by Sacks, born of a personal tragedy, lamented the defunding of research on firearm-injury prevention.2 Kassirer called for electing “lawmakers at all levels of government with the courage to defy gun lobbyists,” so that essential regulatory changes can finally be enacted — as physicians, public health experts, and others have been recommending for decades. But in early December, the day after a young couple turned up at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California, with semiautomatic weapons and went on a shooting rampage, killing 14 people and injuring 21, Congress voted down a measure that would have prevented people on the terrorist watch list from getting guns and stalled on a measure to enhance background checks.3 An existing federal ban on military-style assault weapons, which ought to be an uncontroversial, if inadequate, first step, was allowed to lapse in 2004.
Gun deaths are a serious public health issue in the United States and the scope of the problem is often difficult to illustrate. A new study published in The American Journal of Medicine lays out the risk in concrete terms. When compared to 22 other high-income nations, Americans are ten times more likely to be killed by a gun than their counterparts in the developed world. Specifically, gun homicide rates are 25 times higher in the U.S. and, while the overall suicide rate is on par with other high-income nations, the U.S. gun suicide rate is eight times higher.