However, there will remain a significant number of legally held and lethal handguns available. In Britain we are fortunate in not having a society where guns are accepted as part of everyday life. Experience in the United States of America reflects the evolution of a "gun culture" which has not been held back by legal constraint.
Thus in 1990 there were 1.5 per 100,000 children between 10 and 14 years of age deliberately killed by guns in that country. This would be equivalent to around 68 deaths per year in the United Kingdom in that age group.
Six per 1,000 children visiting two emergency departments in Louisiana in 1993 were suffering from firearm injuries. This would be equivalent to 210 cases per year in the North Staffordshire Hospital, which 35,000 children attend annually. Between 35 and 38 per cent of families with children in the USA reported that 15 per cent had carried a gun within 30 days of the survey.
There are few opportunities to intervene in social/public health problems such as violence involving firearms. Once guns are pervasive in any society, as shown by the chilling statistics from the USA, there is almost no opportunity for "turning back the clock". The USA can be considered a laboratory for what can happen to children, along with all other citizens, if guns are widely available.
We urge our politicians to vote according to the future welfare of all our children and legislate now for a complete ban on handguns, recognising that most illegally held guns were at one time held legally.
Such an approach may also send a signal to other countries, such as the USA, assisting their politicians to take a similar stance.
Dr DAVID SOUTHALL,
Dr PAUL EUNSON
Dr CARL BOSE
Child Advocacy International
Sir: Your leading article ("Ban all handguns now. There's nothing to lose", 17 October) correctly states that the only loss resulting from a blanket ban on all privately owned handguns would be to a handful of enthusiasts. Yet even they need not lose out.
It is not the handgun which does the damage, but the bullets which it fires.
Any child with a gun-like add-on for their video game knows that one can shoot down an entire alien invasion fleet without the need for bullets - all one needs is an infra-red source and a detector. No less steady a hand is required to hit a target with an electronic device than with a physical projectile and a .22 pistol.
As for the Olympics, fencing has already shown that what was once a weapon can, with the help of electronic technology, be used in sport without any reduction in the skill required.
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