We don’t know whether Oscar Pistorius meant to kill his girlfriend in his South Africa home recently or just shot at what he thought was a burglar in his bathroom, as he claims.

If he hadn’t had a gun handy, however, 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp almost surely would be alive today.

The gun industry has tried to suppress gun-safety research, but there’s plenty of evidence that having a gun at home makes you and your loved ones far more likely to be injured or killed by one. This incident is a perfect illustration.

At best, the Olympian panicked and fired through a closed door without taking a second to see if Steenkamp was still in bed.

And if he meant to kill her — well, he could have plotted poison or hired a hit man, but it would have been a lot more complicated.

Occasionally, people successfully defend themselves with guns. But experts such as David Hemenway, director of Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center, say most reports of self-defense fall apart under scrutiny. They turn out to be road rage incidents, or arguments that have escalated.

More than 30,000 people die from gun violence every year in the United States. That doesn’t mean we should ban firearms, but it does mean we need to see the facts clearly.

Suicides, accidental deaths and many homicides are preventable. This country needs a forceful public health strategy like the ones that have reduced deaths from car accidents and smoking to address the epidemic of gun violence.

Editorial by the San Jose Mercury News

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