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Gun violence is an assault on public health

guns The presidential primary season is set to begin with a focus on terrorism.  But the panic and fear talk that leads the highly publicized debates have pushed aside the discussion of the actual weapons used by terrorists — foreign and domestic — to commit these awful acts of destruction.

“Gun violence is an assault on the health of the public,” according to a new editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In 2013, the most recent year of data, more than 33,000 Americans died due to gunshot injuries.  By comparison, that’s more than the number of people who died of AIDS or colon cancer or prostate cancer. “If any other public health menace were consistently killing and maiming so many Americans, without research, recommendations, and action by the CDC, the public would be outraged,” said the authors, led by NEJM editor Debra Malina, Ph.D.

If you listen to the current crop of presidential candidates, the reasons people die from guns is either due to not enough guns or mental illness.  But Congress refuses to allow research to learn more about how to curb or prevent such violence.

“In the United States, the National Rifle Association (NRA), the legislators it has funded, and a certain breed of gun owners have stood in the way even of research to determine what policies might help,” said the authors. In fact, “Congress voted down a measure that would have prevented people on the terrorist watch list from getting guns and stalled on a measure to enhance background checks.”

As for mental illness as a cause for gun violence, that’s more of a political stump speech than actual science.

“Because serious mental illness is quite rare, it actually contributes very little to the overall rate of violence in the general population,” according to Richard A. Friedman, M.D., professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York. “The attributable risk has been estimated to be 3 to 5 percent — much lower than that associated with substance abuse, for example.”

Regarding the causal relation to gun violence, Friedman said “most people who are violent are not mentally ill, and most people who are mentally ill are not violent.”

Back in the 1990’s, when the CDC was permitted to conduct research on the topic, the agency labeled gun violence a “public health phenomenon.” In fact, one CDC study found that “having a gun in the home increases the risk of homicide and suicide threefold.”

That was bad business for the NRA, which successfully lobbied Congress to enact the research ban, which exists today.

On Wednesday, Congress released a trillion-dollar spending bill that keeps in place the controversial Dickey Amendment, first enforced in 1996, which says “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

While Republicans and the NRA often cite American’s rights afforded to them by the Second Amendment, the editors at NEJM wonder about the health and rights of the larger public.

“An equally fundamental American principle holds that ensuring the public health sometimes requires curbing the rights of individuals in order to benefit and protect the community as a whole,” said Malina and colleagues. “Too many Americans will continue to get their hands on assault weapons, too many will kill or maim other Americans, and we will continue to bicker about whether the first step is more research or better mental health care — while we continue to do nothing to cure the disease.”

By Brad Broker

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Photo by Bobbfwed via Wikipedia.

5 comments

  1. From open carry to wacky text books,Texas is proving it’s self to be the not just the 2nd most populous U S State but number one in gun toting ignorance and unfounded paranoiac hysteria. Look where really dumb ideas and the NRA has the most influence, the decades long sub-grade educational system States.of the Confederacy and Red States. No wonder the Republican’s want to dissolve the Department of Education, they don’t need no troublesome educated eggheads, common sense, science, or unvarnished accurate history textbooks.

  2. Homicide numbers continue to decline in the US. There were 4.5 murders per 100,000 people. The murder rate fell 1.2 percent in 2014 compared with the 2013 rate. The murder rate was down from the rates in 2010 (6.1 percent) and 2005 (20.8 percent).

    I question your numbers. I can safely assume that you are not using not using the criminal homicide statistics, but are instead using some some other definitions. I am seeing a 33000 total which undoubtedly would have to include suicides and accidents in order to be inflated to such a size. Case in point, the CDC shows 584,881 people dying of cancer, but you don’t want to compare cancer deaths, you want to cherry pick colon cancer. Twice the number of Americans die of diabetes than your inflated number of gun homicides.

    The gun homicide rate is going down and has been for a long time. By adding suicides into your numbers, you create a larger number for your argument, but you are also being deceptive. You infer that removing one method of suicide will reduce the suicide rate. I seriously doubt that you have any science behind that implied claim.

    I take particular issue with this statement:

    “While Republicans and the NRA often cite American’s rights afforded to them by the Second Amendment, the editors at NEJM wonder about the health and rights of the larger public.”

    The second amendment, much like every other right, applies to the entire population of this country. There is no “larger public.” This is a very dangerous assertion that somehow our rights are merely suggestions subject to the whim of some mythical “larger public.”

    Is our right to assemble and petition our government subject to the whim of the larger public? Is our right to due process subject to the whim of the larger public? How about to be free from unreasonable search and seizure?

  3. sirs, it seems to me the real way to address this problem is to require mandatory gun insurance or registration which pays the costs of gun violence. when gun violence goes does, the fee goes down. Then there is no fiscal conflict for those who benefit from gun sales in solving the problem I have tired estimating the cost, but the available data is extremely scant.

    At a best estimate, I find it to be $3713 per gun sold for 2015.

    Here is my full analysis. If you are interested in helping improve the data, sharing it, or otherwise helping improve the situation, please feel free to contact me.

    http://www.yofiel.com/writing/essays/creating-consensus-on-gun-liberties

  4. I respect everyone’s right to an opinion and would agree that violence with or without firearms is a terrible part of our society’s daily reality. i would like to take issue with your selective use of statistics and point you to two sources of statistics that are equally if not more impressive and I found quite enlightening. I would go into the details of the statistics but there is not really a point in doing so as the data is available for immediate viewing at many websites. The two I came across relatively quickly are

    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm
    AND
    http://americangunfacts.com/

    As one can quickly see, there are many facets to this issue. Your opinion is just that,,, an opinion. I happen to disagree, and would state unequivocally that your use of selective statistics to sensationalize your position is clever but disingenuous. The information on the resources named above certainly tells a different story than the one you do.

  5. Step one.

    If found using a firearm unlawfully….

    No reduced bail, no plea bargains, no reduced sentences, no early release from prison, and minimum state sentencing laws for crimes committed with a firearm.

    No need for step two.

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