Americans are 20 times more likely to be killed by guns than people living in other developed countries. Nine out of 10 children who die of gunshot wounds in wealthy nations lived in the United States. People under 40 are more likely to be killed by a bullet than by any single disease.
These were among the findings presented by a national panel of gun policy experts Monday at the Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health. The summit, organized after a gunman massacred 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school last month, will conclude Tuesday as scholars draft a list of recommendations for lawmakers to stanch gun violence.
New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the public health school's namesake and the founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, launched the day's discussion, which began exactly a month after a 20-year-old shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 first-graders and six adults.
"As horrific as Sandy Hook has been, and all the other seemingly endless episodes of mass violence, we experience that level of carnage or worse every single day across our country," said Bloomberg. "Every day of the year, an average of 33 Americans are murdered with guns."
Gov. Martin O'Malley, who introduced Bloomberg, announced his plan to limit gun violence by requiring fingerprinting and strict licensing standards for gun sales, banning the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, boosting school safety measures and improving early interventions for those with serious mental illnesses.
The summit comes as national and state leaders prepare to tackle the politically divisive issue of limiting access to guns. President Barack Obama has made strengthening gun laws a priority for his second term, while gun advocates have signaled they plan to fight measures to curtail weapon sales. The National Rifle Association has proposed putting armed guards in every school, and gun sales have soared in the weeks after the Sandy Hook massacre.
Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels said the research presented at the summit would be compiled and published before the end of the month and distributed to every member of Congress. He expressed hope that lawmakers would draw on public health research to cut back on gun violence, noting that similar strides had been made in recent decades on other deeply entrenched problems such as tobacco use and drunken driving.
"We want to use this opportunity to cut through the din of the shrill and the incendiary, the rancorous and the baseless, by identifying specific research that evidence-based analysis shows will work," Daniels said.
Bloomberg laid out a seven-point plan to reduce gun violence. Three measures — requiring background checks for all gun sales, including private sales at gun shows and online, making gun-trafficking a federal crime, and limiting sales of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines — would require the support of Obama and Congress.
"These guns and equipment are not designed for sport or home defense," Bloomberg said of the weapons such as those used by Newtown shooter Adam Lanza. "They are designed to kill large numbers of people quickly. They belong on the battlefield, in the hands of our brave, professionally trained soldiers, not on the streets of our cities, suburbs or rural areas."
Bloomberg also called on Obama to implement four initiatives that he says would not require congressional approval, including ordering federal agencies to update the national gun background check database with all relevant data and urging the U.S. Department of Justice to aggressively prosecute those who lie on background checks.
Of 76,000 cases of false background data referred to the Justice Department in 2010, only 44 cases were prosecuted, Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg, a political independent, recommended that Obama make a recess appointment to head the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has not had a permanent director for six years. Finally, he called on the president to stop supporting a law that limits the release of data regarding gun crimes.
Because of this law, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has allocated $100,000 of its $6 billion budget for firearms injury research, and the National Institutes of Health spends less than $1 million of its $31 billion budget on it, Bloomberg said. In contrast, the NIH spends $21 million researching headaches.
"When elected officials try to muzzle scientific research and bury the truth, they make our free society less free and less safe," he said.
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