Johns Hopkins Gazette: January 30, 1995

Center for Gun Policy and Research 
Hopes to Alter Public Perceptions

By Mike Field

     A new center devoted to the study of gun violence was
established Jan. 1 at the School of Public Health. The first
academic center in the nation devoted exclusively to gun policy,
the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research was created
through a two-year, $500,000 grant by the Chicago-based Joyce
     "We have been at work on gun policy and research for a
number of years," said Stephen Teret, professor of health policy
and management and director of the new center. "But in the last
two years there has been an increase in interest in funding a
center like this because of a growing perception that the gun
problem is a public health problem."
     The new center is dedicated to reducing the toll guns take
on the lives of Americans. A key part of its mission will be to
make unbiased firearm information available to policy-makers, the
media, scholars, gun safety advocates and the public. 
     "There are a lot of misconceptions regarding guns," Teret
said. "Unfortunately, some of them have been deliberately created
by advocacy groups associated with this issue."
     One common misconception, said Jon Vernick, research
associate in health policy and management and associate director
of the new center, is that keeping a loaded handgun in the home
is, on balance, safe for the occupants. "There is an idea that
keeping a handgun at home is more protective than perilous,"
Vernick said, "when in fact, just the opposite is true."
     According to studies published in The New England Journal of
Medicine, a handgun in the home makes it three times more likely
that someone in the home will be a victim of homicide and five
times more likely they will be a victim of suicide. Current
estimates indicate half of all households in America have at
least one gun, with about 25 to 30 percent of all homes having a
handgun. There are more gun suicides each year than gun
     Since the early 1980s, Teret and his associates have looked
at guns from a public health perspective, a unique vantage point
outside the highly charged political debates that accompany most
gun control discussions. It is a perspective that brings some
surprising insights into the more than 38,000 gun deaths that
occur each year.
     "Guns are generally not considered a consumer product even
though they are advertised and marketed, and you can go into a
store and buy one like any other consumer product," Teret said.
"The most important aspect of this is that they are not regulated
as a consumer product. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is
expressly forbidden by Congress to regulate either guns or
     Looking at guns as consumer products may be one way to begin
to reduce the nation's high annual toll of deaths and injuries,
suggests Teret: "Why should a 2-year-old be able to operate your
handgun when that same 2-year-old cannot open a bottle of
aspirin? Aspirin manufacturers are required to produce childproof
containers for their product, yet no one is telling the gun
manufacturers to childproof their product."
     Many researchers and inventors have suggested ways in which
guns--particularly handguns--could be childproofed. From the
1880s through the 1930s, Smith and Wesson marketed a handgun
claimed to be childproof. The gun required the user to depress a
metal lever on the handle of the gun while pulling the trigger, a
feat requiring more strength and bigger hands than most children
possess. In 1994 the Baltimore Sun ran a story featuring a
student-led Hopkins engineering project that designed a handgun
that would only fire when held by someone wearing a special ring
on one finger.
     In addition to disseminating the latest findings in
gun-related injury and death, the center will provide resources
for legislative support and testimony, conduct applied research
and help educate the next generation of scholars in the field. 
     "We will not be directly engaged in litigation, but we will
be able to support legal efforts with our resources," Vernick
     The Joyce Foundation, with assets exceeding $470 million,
supports efforts in conservation, education, economic development
and gun violence, among other projects. For a number of years it
has helped support gun violence research conducted at Johns
     "I think Johns Hopkins School of Public Health is one of the
first to realize the key to this problem lies in focusing on
prevention rather than punishment," said Joyce Foundation
president Deborah Leff. "Stephen Teret has done some of the most
important work being conducted today on the impact of gun policy.
Strong data and totally reliable information are essential if the
public and policy-makers are to make informed decisions. We are
very pleased to be associated with Hopkins in this effort."

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