Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Feeding the Beast of Violence: How the NRA Affects Our Public Health


Among developed nations, the United States is head and shoulders above all others in respect to violence. This is in large part due to the easy access many Americans have to firearms. Gun violence scars a nation priding itself on freedom, liberty, and justice. The government faces the ugly truth that bullets from firearms account for an average of more than one mass shooting a day in America. (4+ victims including shooter, 2015).

Most Republicans are opposed to gun control measures in general. They claim such legislation would limit gun rights, saying owning all types of weapons is protected by the Constitution's Second Amendment. They insist the right to a militia is a freedom that must never be infringed upon.

In the wake of the Orlando club massacre, the Republican-controlled US Senate rejected several measures aimed at reducing gun violence. Even a hot-button issue like gun violence appears unable to make politicians cross the aisle and compromise to save American lives. The NRA and the gun lobby control politicians who care more for re-election than for preventing innocent deaths.

Besides, gun proponents claim there is no way to stop gun violence. That assumption presumes nothing more can be done to stop violence other than the proliferation of “good guys” with guns – especially concealed weapons -- stopping “bad guys” with guns – often with legally purchased assault firearms.

Gun violence in the United States is not a constitutionally derived inevitability.

Gun violence happens because our elected officials have made a series of deliberate policy judgments that guns should be easy to buy, sell, and carry by nearly anyone, anywhere, any time.

Data from Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that states with more guns tend to have far more gun deaths. And it's not just one study."Within the United States, a wide array of empirical evidence indicates that more guns in a community leads to more homicide," David Hemenway, the Harvard Injury Control Research Center's director, wrote in Private Guns, Public Health.

(David Hemenway, Private Guns, Public Health. 2006.)

Looking Into a Public Health Approach on Gun Violence

Optimism can defeat the self-defeating proposition that “there is no way to stop gun violence.” I find it very beneficial to examine the ideas of Dr. David Hemenway, who is Professor of Health Policy at the Harvard School of Public Health and Director of the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center. Allow me to share some information with you …

In his highly regarded research, Hemenway develops the public health approach as a pragmatic, science-based effort to reduce injuries and deaths from gun violence. The goal is not to assign blame but, rather, to find solutions, with an emphasis on prevention.

Hemenway compares controlling gun violence with past efforts on improving highway safety – away from improved driving and toward improved design of vehicles and roadways. For gun violence, the analogy is to focus less on the shooters and more on access to guns and their design. The author acknowledges that if shooters are determined, resourceful people with clear and sustained deadly intent, then regulating guns would likely have little effect on the number of homicides and suicides. In other words, they would find a way.

But in the real world, as Hemenway spells out, a large portion of serious intentional violence would be less deadly if guns were less readily available or less user-friendly. Furthermore, although gun "accidents" make up only a small fraction of the total gun injuries, they are common enough that the Consumer Product Safety Commission would surely give them high priority if it were not barred from doing so by federal law.

Hemenway also addresses another feature separates firearms from vehicles: the possibility of "virtuous use." The belief in the importance of giving civilians a means of self-defense has long been used as an argument for preserving the right to keep handguns in the home.

In recent decades, that philosophy has fueled a successful effort to ease state restrictions on carrying concealed weapons in public. This campaign has made great use of the work of criminologist Gary Kleck, who concluded from his analysis of survey data that there are millions of virtuous self-defense uses of guns each year.

Hemenway has done more than any other scholar in rebutting that absurd claim. When it comes time to assess the evidence on the effectiveness of particular interventions to reduce gun violence, Hemenway is restrained. He notes, "Unfortunately, there exist few convincing evaluations of past firearms laws."

In reviewing the evidence on what works and what might work, he tends to believe that studies support the feasibility of reducing accidents and suicides more than they do the likelihood of cutting down on gun assaults.

Hemenway summons a public health core principle: that good data are the precondition for progress. He and his center get much of the credit for designing a practical system that is now in the pilot stage in a number of states, with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The public health approach rests on the optimistic belief that good science will engender good policy and practice.

(Philip J. Cook, Ph.D. “Private Guns, Public Health” Reviewed in N Engl J Med. 
September 16, 2004)

Using survey data on rates of household gun ownership, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health examined the association between gun availability and homicide across states, 2001-2003. It found that states with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide. This relationship held for both genders and all age groups, after accounting for rates of aggravated assault, robbery, unemployment, urbanization, alcohol consumption, and resource deprivation (e.g., poverty). There was no association between gun prevalence and non-firearm homicide.

(Matthew Miller; Deborah Azrael; and David Hemenway. “State-level homicide victimization rates in the U.S. in relation to survey measures of household firearm ownership, 2001-2003.” Social Science and Medicine. 2007; 64:656-64.)

In the United States although most people support policies that reduce access to guns, once these policies are proposed, they're spun by politicians and groups like the NRA that falsely claim any attempts to control access to deadly weapons are threats to taking all guns away from law-abiding citizens.

The lie persists and festers. So nothing gets done, and preventable deaths keep occurring. Innocents seeking their own peaceful, inalienable rights continue to be filled with lead from assault weapons in the hands of those who should have been prevented from purchasing them. And, the endless cycle of those convinced that only a gun stops a gun spins around and around in a violent circle.


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