BOSTON (Reuters) - States that have more laws restricting gun ownership have lower rates of death from shootings, both suicides and homicides, a study by researchers at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard University found.
States with the most laws on gun ownership, including Massachusetts and New Jersey, have 42 percent lower rates of death from guns than those with the least restrictions, including Utah and Oklahoma, according to the study, published on Wednesday in the online edition of JAMA Internal Medicine.
The study was released as a Senate committee approved new gun-control measures backed by President Barack Obama to crack down on illegal trafficking in firearms in the wake of the December massacre at a Connecticut elementary school.
Based on data from 2007 through 2010, the study looked at the relationship between the number of restrictions states placed on gun ownership -- from background checks on gun buyers to bans on military-style assault weapons -- and the number of gun-related homicides and suicides reported.
The most likely link between the strictness of a state's gun regulations and the number of shootings was that in states with more restrictive gun control laws, fewer households own guns, the study's lead author, Dr. Eric Fleegler, said on Thursday.
"One of the questions that is always raised in this debate is, 'Do laws make a difference?' There are many people who will try to argue that laws don't make a difference, don't bother passing them, let people do what they want," Fleegler said.
"Our study really suggests the opposite. The states that have taken the time and thought to pass this legislation, we see lower rates of firearms fatalities."
The study determined the strictness of a state's gun regulations by assigning a point value to different rules -- from one point for rules against guns in the workplace to six points for rules regulating how gun dealers may operate. The points for each state were totaled to determine which had the most restrictive gun-control regimes.
The data was compared with federal figures on the number of deaths caused by guns, both homicides and suicides, in each state.
Noting that little academic research is done on the link between firearms and public health in the United States, largely due to restrictions on federal funding for such research, Fleegler said he hoped the findings would influence debate on gun-control laws.
The authors cautioned that their methods did not prove any cause and effect connection between firearms laws and deaths, and that factors including how effectively the laws were enforced could undermine their conclusions.
Proponents of gun control argue that restricting access to weapons and ammunition could lower the number of shootings the United States experiences each year, while gun-rights advocates note that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to possess weaponry and contend that laws restricting gun ownership do little to deter the criminal use of guns.
(This story is corrected in the 5th, 6th and 10th paragraphs, corrected last name of study lead author to Fleegler, not Fleeger)
Reporting By Scott Malone; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Bob Burgdorfer and Leslie Adler