Wisconsin is not exactly the Wild West by any stretch of the imagination. Its firearm mortality rate puts it 37th among 50 US states. But at 5.4 deaths per 100,000 people, that is still getting on for 10 times the rate for England and Wales. According to Home Office crime figures, 1997 saw just 59 gun deaths.

The Firearm Injury Centre at the Medical College of Wisconsin has been collecting data since 1991 as part of its drive to reduce gun-related injuries and deaths. Its figures are revealing. They show that the worse educated you are, the more likely you are to be shot. Being young, male and black raises your chances of being shot enormously.

Among women shot dead in the state, 40 per cent were killed by their spouse or partner; among men that figure falls to just 2 per cent. The largest group of male victims are shot dead by a friend or acquaintance, while men are also more than twice as likely as women to be shot dead by a stranger.

Nationally, according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, 90 per cent of those shot during the course of a crime are male, 59 per cent are black, and 49 per cent are aged 15-24. During 1994, offenders used guns in 29 per cent of rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults. About 12 per cent of firearm injuries are from drive-by shootings.

Trauma surgeons and emergency physicians joined forces last year to launch a firearm injury prevention policy. As Dr Nancy Auer, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, pointed out at the time, the number of deaths and the cost of the problem is 'staggering'.

Doctors say firearms claim 40,000 lives and injure 150,000 people every year in the US. The Centers for Disease Control calculate that in the mid-1980s the economic costs of firearm death and injury totalled $14.4bn. Among consumer products, only cars outpace guns as a cause of fatal injury.

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