By any measure, firearms — especially handguns — are a leading instrument of violent injury. In 1987, firearms accounted for 32,919 fatalities in the United States: 18,144 suicides, 12,665 homicides, and 2110 unintentional fatalities, legal interventions (killings by law-enforcement officials), or deaths of undetermined type. Sixty percent of all homicides and suicides during this year were committed with guns, and handguns accounted for three fourths of the homicides by firearms.
A central question in research on the prevention of gunrelated mortality is whether restricting access to handguns would reduce deaths by firearms. One approach to the issue is to examine patterns of mortality associated with changes in local, state, or national regulations. In 1976 the District of Columbia adopted one of the most restrictive handgun policies in the nation. The law prohibited the purchase, sale, transfer, and possession of handguns by civilians in Washington, D.C., unless a citizen already owned the handgun and had registered it under an existing system. We conducted an interrupted time-series study to determine whether the implementation of the law reduced gunrelated homicides and suicides.