We’ve been covering a lot of medical association news related to the Newtown shooting and gun-related legislation, but that’s because we’re very focused on looking at what research can tell us about reducing firearm injury, and medical associations are closely involved with much of this research.

Just as the American Psychiatric Association issued their remarks last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics sent their own letter, which you can download here, to President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders on December 19.

The organization had published a report on firearm-related injuries affecting children in their journal Pediatrics in October, in which they wrote “The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to support a number of specific measures to reduce the destructive effects of guns in the lives of children and adolescents, including the regulation of the manufacture, sale, purchase, ownership, and use of firearms; a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons; and the strongest possible regulations of handguns for civilian use.”

Unsurprisingly, in their letter to political leaders, they were just as direct regarding policy proposals related to gun control, mental health and children’s exposure to violence:

•    ”New federal firearms legislation that bans assault weapon sales and the sales of high capacity magazines, strengthens mandatory waiting periods and background checks for all gun purchases and promotes strict gun safety policies is a necessary first step.
•    Next, the federal government must take action to improve access to services that meet the mental health and developmental needs of infants, children and adolescents, and ensures that children and families exposed to violence have access to a medical home and other community supports.
•    Finally, we must engage in a national dialogue designed to reduce children’s detrimental exposure to violence in their communities, environments and entertainment.”

We’ll be revisiting the full account of their policy report on firearms for a later blog post, but we also wanted to mention another article with similar recommendations. “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, which is published by the American Medical Association, also offered commentary related to firearm regulation. More »

On an episode of Meet the Press that aired Sunday, December 16th, two days after the Newtown shooting, Senator Dianne Feinstein announced that she would bring a new assault weapons ban to the floor in 2013. Feinstein was one of the authors of the 1994 assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.

The rationale behind such a ban would be to reduce access to the types of gúns that would make it easy for one person to kill many people quickly. The 1994 ban placed restrictions on firearms that had certain characteristics of military weapons—for example, rifles with bayonet lugs, flash suppressors and pistol grips. Some gun enthusiasts derided the 1994 ban as a “cosmetic ban” because it prohibited certain guns that looked dangerous, while allowing other, equally deadly weapons to remain legal.

Whether you support Senator Feinstein’s bill or not, it’s important to understand what she proposes to ban, and it would be easier to assess the relevance of such a ban if the bill logically differentiated among weapons based on their capacity to kill. Most Americans know enough about guns to have formulated at least a vague opinion about what should and shouldn’t be legal. Through popular television programs, movies and video games, even people who have never fired a gun have developed some notion about the difference between, say, an M-16 and a snub-nosed revolver. But there are a huge variety of guns sold on the civilian market in the U.S., many of which are not well understood by the general public. This overview, while not comprehensive, is designed to clarify the significant differences between various types of firearms, with an emphasis on the weapon’s potential to kill many people quickly.

Much of the recent debate about which guns to ban has emphasized differences between handguns and rifles. That distinction is more complex than it might seem. We think of handguns as smaller weapons that shoot smaller bullets1. But some pistols have the same caliber, rate of fire and capacity as military rifles. At close range, specialized handguns can be as effective as rifles, either when used for hunting or when used to inflict mass casualties. In 2007, Seung-Hui Cho shot 49 people (32 fatally) at Virginia Tech, armed only with handguns.

A semiautomatic handgun with a high-capacity magazine. Photo © Matt Valentine

A semiautomatic handgun with a high-capacity magazine. Photo © Matt Valentine

Rather than focus on the size of the gun, I’d like to highlight two more relevant factors that make some guns more lethal in mass shooting scenarios than others, which are A) rate of fire and B) capacity. Any gun can be deadly, but all other things being equal, a gun that can fire rapidly for a sustained period without needing to be reloaded clearly has the potential to kill more people than a gun that can only be operated with frequent pauses. More »