Saturday, January 15, 2011

Guns and public health

What's a reasoned response?

Scenario A:  People start getting sick from eating contaminated peanut butter.  Wide spread public outrage over the fact contaminated peanut butter was sold in the first place, sales of peanut butter plummet, and the plant that sold the stuff is shut down.

Scenario B:  Scientists figure out ingesting lead, whether it's in the form of paint chips or from deposits caused by car exhaust, causes brain damage in children.  Wide spread public health effort to eliminate lead from the environment:  lead is banned as an additive in gasoline, lead-based paint for household use vanishes, massive clean-up efforts are undertaken to get existing lead out of houses and anyplace kids might come into contact with it.

Scenario C:  People get tired of drunk drivers killing people.  Organizations like Students Against Drunk Drivers and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers are founded, penalties for operating under the influence are stiffened, efforts are made to keep people from combining alcohol and operating a motor vehicle, and everyone agrees that it is a bad, bad thing to slam jello shots and then get behind the wheel of a car.

Scenario D:  Lunatic goes on killing rampage using a gun.  Public response?  Mad rush to gun stores to stock up on additional weapons "just in case" the government decides that maybe, just maybe some regulations that might prevent similar lunatics from buying similar weaponry would be a good idea.

And then we Americans wonder why everyone else on the planet thinks we're crazier than shithouse rats.

Back when I was teaching sociology in the '90s, one of the assigned readings for my students was a research article about violence and child death.  One thing that stood out then was an eye opening statement by the researchers that they had wanted to do a comparison study, i.e., look at homicide rates for children on a per capita basis in the United States and other industrialized countries, but they couldn't do it.  You know why?

Because so few children died as a result of violence in countries such as Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Canada that it was statistically meaningless. That's not saying it never happened; it just happened so rarely that the national mortality and morbidity databases didn't have a category for homicide deaths of children.  Kids weren't routinely getting picked off by drive-by shootings in Helsinki or Uppsala or Manchester or being beaten to death by caregivers; the very notion of seeing such events as routine was (and is) inconceivable. They would have wound up with a histogram that was basically a bunch of flat lines and one really tall bar. 

In this country, no one blinks an eye when some toddler in Atlanta or Chicago or Los Angeles gets hit by stray bullets.  The last year I could find data for, 19 children under the age of 12 months died from gunshot wounds in the United States -- and not all of them lived in ghettoes, so don't get too comfortable, white America. An interesting study a year or so ago showed the risk of a child dying from gun violence was the same regardless of place of residency in the US; in cities, it's often a by-product of gang violence, while in rural areas it's accidents and suicides. 

We've internalized and normalized that violence -- instead of trying to figure out a way to keep it from happening, we freak out and start foaming at the mouth about tyranny and the blood of patriots when someone suggests doing something sane.  We'd rather have over 30,000 people a year die from gunshot wounds than suffer the inconvenience of a background check at a gun show or being told we can't carry our hunting rifles into a National Park -- we'd have hysterics and heads would roll at the Centers for Disease Control and elsewhere if 30,000 people died from E. coli on alfalfa sprouts, but gun deaths don't faze us at all.

The truly bizarre part, from a strictly logical perspective, is the rationale behind the hysteria about the right to keep and bear arms:  it's to protect ourselves from other people carrying guns.  Okay.  Let's think this through.  If we're worried about measles, what do we do?  We try to eliminate measles from the population; the fewer measles viruses there are in circulation, the less likely we are to get the disease.  If we're worried about contaminated drinking water, what do we do?  We filter the water to keep the bad crap out.  If we're worried about drunks on the highway, what do we do?  Try to get the drunks off the highway.

So if we're worried about getting shot, what do we do?  We pour more guns and ammo into the pool, which can only have the effect of increasing, not decreasing, our chances of getting shot.* 

Like I said, crazier than shithouse rats.  

[*Gun ownership also increases household risk for burglary. Having guns in the house is apparently similar to tossing out chum for sharks.]


  1. and no one even mentions the fact he was fucking nuts and needed mental health care and didn't get it..everyone knew he was nuts, knew he was dangerous and had a gun..did anyone do anything about it?..nope

  2. My theory is that the country is run by lobbyists. Whenever good legislation comes up, if it is remotely bad for someone's business, a lobby springs up and works the PR machine through lies, exaggerations and hyperbole, and winds up all the saber-rattlers. Or they just pay their legislators a little extra cash, and the whole problem goes away.

    It's not a democracy anymore; it's cash n' carry.

  3. Yup, crazy is right, and I bought 550 more rounds of ammo, just in case.

  4. [*Gun ownership also increases household risk for burglary. Having guns in the house is apparently similar to tossing out chum for sharks.]

    Sorry, but I can't agree with your reasoning on that, I've had guns all my adult life and no one has ever broke into my place for one of them, not that it couldn't happen of course.

    About 99 I woke in the night to a ruckus outside and stepped out with a gun in my hand to find a man taking a tool box out of my outside storage unit and when I hollered at him and he looked and saw the gun in my hand he was gone like a shot.

    But if you don't like guns that's fine with me, just take a knife to a gun fight.

  5. If guns are outlawed only us outlaws will have guns. It's not a nice planet, you deserve all the personal protection you can give yourself.

  6. BBC, the plural of anecdote is not data.

    From a public health perspective, dumping more guns and ammo into the populace is the equivalent of people lining up to shit in the water supply right after they've been told there's a cholera outbreak in the community.

  7. Nan, what an excellent post on this subject. And the old canard BBC brings up, that if guns are outlawed, only outlaws would have guns, is easily solved. He is right that many of the guns in the hands of criminals and thugs are not legal guns. But there are ways that could make even criminals find it harder to get guns. Often times they're stolen or passed from one person to another in the criminal world. What if gun manufacturers were required to include some kind of electronic ID to work, similar to cars nowadays? If you don't have the electronic key then you can't operate the gun. That might solve a lot of the problem. I suppose that still leaves the problem of guns coming into the country illegally from other countries. But it would certainly help anyway.

  8. The data in this area is that over seventy percent of the folks here support gun ownership and likely own their own guns.

    That doesn't mean we are shooting them all the time and spreading lead all over, it just means we own them.

  9. For what it's worth, I support gun ownership -- I'd just like to see a little more effort made in keeping guns out of the hands of lunatics.

  10. Excellent blog.

    Shithouse rats and batshit gun owners and their puppet master, the NRA, have been lobbying their craziness and warped values for too many decades. The result? Logic and common sense regarding gun legislation and gun restrictions are long gone.

    BTW, if you're worried someone is going to steal your TV or collection of salt shakers ... get a dog, not a gun.

  11. Actually, if only criminals had guns, we'd all be a lot safer. Most people who die by the gun are not killed by criminals who tend only to shoot each other. It is the "nice people" with guns who scare hell out of me.

    Ignore Billy. He stirs more shit than a lagoon agitator.

    And thanks for dropping by my blog.

  12. I agree with BBC on this one. The problem we have with violence is a social problem, not a lack of gun registration. And the common refrain about the "gun show loophole" is proof that the media has an anti-gun bias, as you would know if you ever went to a gun show and tried to buy a gun. Dealers there still have to do the paperwork and NICS background checks, just as they would in their stores. Also, out-of-state dealers and individual gun sales are absolutely forbidden. Individual sales between residents of the state in which the gun show occurs is legal in some states, but the seller must check ID to verify age, ask questions about criminal background, and be alert to suspicious apperance, actions or statements by potential gun purchasers. This is not on the honor system, either: undercover ATF agents patrol all gun shows and regularly send in shills to attempt an illegal purchase. ATF has also shut down all gun sales at flea markets, even though there is no law against them. They have done so via gestapo-style harassment techniques, showing up at the homes of people who have sold a gun at a flea market. Don't believe it? Go to a flea market and see if you can find a gun.
    No, the "gun show loophole" the national media wants to convince folks that we need to close is a code word for "all individual transfers." The bills that are occasionally introduced by anti-gun legislators are worded so as to prevent a father giving his son a .22 rifle for his 16th birthday, or a husband giving his wife a .38 to protect herself when he is not there, or the wife giving her husband that new shotgun he has been wanting, for Christmas. Just so we are clear on what the real deal is.

    Oh, and I do not support the NRA, by the way. I have never been a member, and I throw away unopened any correspondence they send me. Because they really are just a professional lobby. They don't believe in not support gun rights any more than the average politician does. To the NRA, it is about licensed privileges and the money that changes hands. In case you haven't noticed, the right to keep and bear (which means carry, btw) arms is the second-enumerated right in the US Constitution. Do you have to buy and maintain a license to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, or to not be forced to testify against yourself, or to not have a soldier quartered in your home?

    One last comment, just as food for thought: How's that prohibition thing working out against marijuana?

  13. Thanks to Bill Clinton we now have people who need to be locked up because they are NUTS, out roaming the streets.

    The answer is very simple - get the “crazy” people off of the streets. Most persons reading this don’t recall “insane asylums” where crazy persons were locked up. Then they could not get guns. But as all things happen in the world, a reform movement came along (during the dark clinton years) and these “crazy” persons were allowed to roam the streets as normal persons supposedly made sane by medicines. As part of freedom, these psychotic now are untouchable for all practical purposes because involuntary commitments are long lengthly processes. This prevents the “abuses” which were prevalent when I was a young lad.

  14. Far out. I got a "blame Clinton" comment at last. Actually, the problem with the mentally ill not receiving care goes back farther, practically to the Johnson administration so you'd have been more historically accurate to blame Nixon, Ford, or Carter), and resulted from the unintended consequences of several separate policy moves: shutting down the snake pits (aka state mental hospitals) that warehoused people in horrendous conditions, expanding patients' rights so they'd have more control over their own treatment, and a steady erosion of public funding over the past 30 or 40 years for mental health care. When people talk about eliminating government waste, they go for the soft targets first: group homes for schizophrenics, grant money for community clinics, etc.


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