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October 11, 2000

Would Prevention of Gun Carrying Reduce US Homicide Rates?

Author Affiliations

Stephen J.LurieMD, PhD, Senior EditorIndividualAuthorPhil B.FontanarosaMD, Executive Deputy EditorIndividualAuthor

JAMA. 2000;284(14):1788-1789. doi:10.1001/jama.284.14.1783

To the Editor: Dr Sherman extrapolated from the finding of Dr Villaveces and colleagues2 that banning the carrying of firearms reduced homicide rates in 2 Colombian cities to the conclusion that a similar policy should be instituted in the United States. Villaveces et al2 noted that indiscriminate banning of firearm carrying, enforced with intrusive police measures such as checkpoints and search and seizures during traffic stops, may not have a similar effect in cities where homicides are less common. Furthermore, constitutional restrictions on police search procedures would prevent transferring the methods used in Cali and Bogotá to any city in the United States.

It is inappropriate to compare unregulated gun carrying in such cities as Cali and Bogotá (114.6 and 61 homicides per 100,000 person-years, respectively, and 88 per 100,000 person-years for Colombia as a whole) to the United States (6.3 per 100,000 person-years3), where we have a system of state-regulated, concealed weapon-carrying licensing. Moreover, deep cultural and political differences exist. The situation in Colombia, a country virtually devoid of the rule of law and immersed in anarcho-terrorism, is not analogous to the United States, a constitutional republic imbued with individual liberties and a long legal tradition. Cities such as Cali, Medellín, and Bogotá are near chaos from all-out drug wars, and prosecutors, judges, and political candidates live under death sentences. Some would argue that a police state would be preferable to chaos in Colombia. While Sherman may prefer the same outcome in the United States (eg, checkpoints and police searching citizens at their discretion), I and millions of Americans disagree. The road to tyranny is often paved with good intentions.

Sherman  LW Gun carrying and homicide prevention.  JAMA. 2000;283:1193-1195.Google Scholar
Villaveces  ACummings  PEspitia  VEKoepsell  TDMcKnight  BKellerman  AL Effect of a ban on carrying firearms on homicide rates in 2 Colombian cities.  JAMA. 2000;283:1205-1209.Google Scholar
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reports: Crime in the United States—1998. Washington, DC: US Dept of Justice; 1999.