Mon, Jan 14, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Guns play key role in the US’ shorter life expectancy

The US has one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the ‘developed’ world, attributed to bad diet, poverty and an increasingly violent, gun-owning culture

By Kevin Freking, Erica Werner, Michael  /  Melia and Michael Gormley AP, Washington

“With lives and dollars at stake, the United States cannot afford to ignore this problem,” the report said.

The researchers reviewed an array of studies over the years. They estimated that homicide and suicide together account for about a quarter of the years of life lost for US men compared to those in peer countries. Homicide, they noted, is the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24. The large majority of those homicides involve firearms.

The researchers said there is little evidence that violent acts occur more frequently in the US than elsewhere. It’s the lethality of those attacks that stands out.

“One behavior that probably explains the excess lethality of violence and unintentional injuries in the United States is the widespread possession of firearms and the common practice of storing them [often unlocked] at home. The statistics are dramatic,” the report said.

For example, the US has the highest rate of firearm ownership among peer countries — 89 civilian-owned firearms for every 100 US citizens, and the US is home to about 35 percent to 50 percent of the world’s civilian-owned firearms, the report noted.

In attempting to explain why US citizens are so unhealthy, the researchers looked at three categories: the US healthcare system, harmful behaviors and social and economic conditions.

Researchers noted that the US has a large uninsured population compared to other countries with comparable economies, and more limited access to primary care. And although the income of US citizens is higher on average than that of other wealthy countries, the US also has a higher level of poverty, especially among children.

Researchers said US culture probably plays an important role in the life expectancy rates falling short of other wealthy countries.

“We have a culture in our country that, among many Americans, cherishes personal autonomy and wants to limit intrusion of government and other entities on our personal lives,” said Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, who served as chairman for the study panel.

Those values are frequently cited among gun advocates, who consider arms ownership a basic right enshrined in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

Many argue that the crimes of some should not force law-abiding citizens to give up guns, and fear that attempts to restrict ownership of even the most high-powered weapons could be a stepping stone to eventually banning all arms. The NRA insisted after the Connecticut shooting that the answer to gun violence was arming more “good guys” and putting an armed security officer in every school.

A coalition of conservative and gun-rights groups is organizing a “Gun Appreciation Day” to coincide with the weekend of Obama’s inauguration, calling on people to visit gun stores, gun ranges and gun shows with US flags and “hands off my gun” signs.

Obama hopes to announce his administration’s next steps to tackle gun violence shortly after he is sworn in for a second term on Jan. 21.

Obama wants Congress to reinstate a ban on military-style assault weapons, close loopholes that allow gun buyers to avoid background checks and restrict high-capacity magazines.

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