WASHINGTON -- The nation's gun-control organizations have found new ammunition in their fight to restrict the sale of weapons.
That help came in the form of a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that homicides are more likely to occur in households where guns are kept than in households where they are not.
Rather than providing protection against intrusions by strangers, they appear to increase the risk that one family member or acquaintance will kill another, the study said.
The findings were released yesterday by two physicians who directed the study, Arthur Kellermann of Emory University in Atlanta and Frederick Rivara of the University of Washington.
Immediately, gun-control supporters used the results of the study to bolster their case.
"[It] clearly shows that guns are not the miracle-cure, self-protection solution many people are seeking," said Sarah Brady, chairwoman of the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence in Washington, and wife of James Brady, White House press secretary during the Reagan administration.
"I hope these findings give the public pause before they rush out and purchase a firearm . . . ," she said.
Mrs. Brady's organization is lobbying for passage of the Brady Bill, which would require a waiting period for the purchase of a handgun. The bill is named for the former press secretary, who was seriously wounded in the March 1981 assassination attempt on then-President Reagan.
Other gun-control lobbyists agreed that the study would help their campaign.
"This study will likely come up in every discussion we have on guns, violence, and safety," said Gwen Fitzgerald, associate director of communications at the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence. "When people understand that guns lead to an increase in violence, it will be much easier to address public policy issues and strategies."
Though not the first study to link gun possession with an increased homicide rate at home, it is one of the most comprehensive and widely researched of its kind.
Supported by grants from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and the Centers for Disease Control, it involved 420 households in three metropolitan areas in the states of Tennessee, Washington, and Ohio, where homicides had occurred.
Researchers found that the risk of being murdered was almost three times higher in homes with guns than in homes without. The great majority of victims, 76.7 percent were killed by a spouse, other family member or acquaintance, the study found, and 93 of the victims kept a loaded gun in the home. By contrast, homicides by a stranger were rare, occurring in only 3.6 percent of cases.