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Strict regulation is essential at gun shows to curb criminal activity
In light of the shooting deaths of 32 people in April at a US university, Virginia Tech, I felt compelled to include the paper by Wintemute1 in this issue (see page 150). To my way of thinking, this study represents a small but critical step towards truly effective gun control in a country where the culture of guns verges on the incomprehensible. Although there is no evidence that the deranged shooter obtained his guns from a gun show (do all countries have them?), the implications for prevention seem evident.
I was prompted to write this brief editorial because the author plays down his findings. Wintemute calmly concludes, “California's regulatory policies were associated with a decreased incidence of anonymous, undocumented gun sales and illegal ‘straw purchases' at gun shows.” That this is too quiet an understatement becomes evident when you examine the striking comparisons in table 2. They reveal the greatly increased risks of deadly weapons being sold at shows in states that lack California's regulations. Even in the US it seems odd to permit undocumented gun sales while fussing about undocumented immigrants. Wintemute's findings, combined with what has been shown about the value of having background checks on all gun transfers, are clear evidence of the effectiveness of regulations in this area—as in most others. It is reasonable to assume that measures that reduce “anonymous, undocumented” and “illegal ‘straw purchases'” would also reduce the chances of these weapons falling into the hands of Virginia Tech‐style killers.
Why such measures are resisted even after this massacre is the US way of addressing gun control. As an editorial in the New York Times (April 2007) noted: “We might ask why Virginia's Legislature has decided to protect some of its shadier gun dealers from being unmasked. But, unfortunately, we already know the answer: more craven service to the all‐powerful gun lobby.” The editorial concludes, “The horror of tens of thousands of annual gun deaths will be compounded if the new crop of presidential candidates manages to duck an issue that more than 200 mayors, led by Mr Bloomberg, are fighting from the trenches.”
Make that 200 mayors, too few researchers, and at least one editor.