Is Gun Violence a Public Health Problem or a Crime Problem?

Last Tuesday, a coalition of 8 health professional organizations and the American Bar Association published a “call to action” on firearm-related injury and death.  The report attempts to address gun violence as a public health problem, and lists six recommendations “aimed at reducing the health and public health consequences of firearms.”

Unfortunately, the writers fail to understand the true nature of gun violence.

The report tries to argue that by treating gun violence as a public health problem, they can reduce its occurrence. It observes the “major achievements” that have been made in the reduction of other public health problems (tobacco use, unintentional poisoning, and motor vehicle deaths), and suggests that these “can serve as models going forward.”

The truth is that gun violence has very little in common with any of these issues.  You can reduce tobacco use by discouraging young people from using it and encouraging users to quit.  You can reduce unintentional poisoning by offering clear warning signs and advocating safe practices.  You can reduce motor vehicle deaths by educating drivers on safe driving practices and punishing those who don’t follow such practices.

But you can’t stop a bad person from illegally acquiring a gun and shooting someone through advocacy campaigns.

And while there are other forms of gun-related deaths and injuries that are preventable through safety measures, criminal gun violence is the number one type of gun violence. To characterize firearm-related deaths and injuries as a public health crisis fails to address this important fact.

The report goes on to list its recommendations:

1.  Universal background checks

The report states: “Although current laws require background checks at gun stores, purchases at gun shows do not require such checks. This loophole must be closed.”

The truth is that that fewer than 1% of “crime guns” are obtained at gun shows. Also, as Breitbart points out, infamous shooters like Jerad and Amanda Miller (Las Vegas cop killers), Elliot Rodger (Santa Barbara), Ivan Lopez (Fort Hood 2014), Darion Marcus Aquilar (Maryland mall), Karl Halverson Pierson (Arapahoe High School), Paul Ciancia (LAX), Aaron Alexis (DC Navy Yard), James Holmes (Aurora theater), Jared Loughner (Gabby Giffords’ attacker), and Nidal Hasan (2009 Fort Hood gunman) all went through the same type of background check that is advocated by this report.

Requiring background checks is not a bad idea in theory, but it costs money and time, and doesn’t stop a bad guy from getting his weapon of choice off the street.

2.  Physician “gag laws”

The report states: “[P]hysicians must be allowed to speak freely to their patients in a nonjudgmental manner about firearms, provide patients with factual information about firearms relevant to their health and the health of those around them, fully answer their patients’ questions, and advise them on the course of behaviors that promote health and safety without fear of liability or penalty.”

I don’t think there is anything wrong with physicians talking to patients about gun safety, but is this really going to do much to prevent violent gun crimes? Common sense would suggest “no.”

3.  Mental health

The report states: “Early identification, intervention, and treatment of mental and substance use disorders would reduce the consequences of firearm-related injury and death.”

This statement is true, and I fully support programs that would help those who could harm themselves or others.

But, as the report goes on to say, “the overall proportion of violent acts committed by persons with mental or substance use disorders is relatively low.” Thus, the impact of taking such action, while necessary, would only put a relatively small dent in the number of annual gun-related injuries and deaths.

4.  Blanket reporting laws

The coalition also opposes “blanket reporting laws that require physicians to report patients with mental or substance use disorders,” because such reporting may “stigmatize patients and keep them from seeking treatment.”

This recommendation presents an obvious conflict of values. In the end, what’s more important: stigmatization of mentally unstable patients or public safety?

5.  “Assault Weapons” Ban

The report advocates “restrictions for civilian use on the manufacture and sale of large-capacity magazines and firearms with features designed to increase their rapid and extended killing capacity.”

This recommendation brushes off the overall ineffectiveness of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, which did nothing to prevent the type of gun violence that it was targeting. In fact, a 2004 Justice Department-funded study found that “the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.

6.  Need for research

Lastly the report advocates for “robust research about the causes and consequences of firearm violence and unintentional injuries and for strategies to reduce firearm-related injuries.” It also suggests that “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, and National Institute of Justice should receive adequate funding to study the effect of gun violence and unintentional gun-related injury on public health and safety.”

I’m no scientist, but it seems like the effect of gun violence is that it harms people.  Instead of studying the effects of gun violence, why not study ways to decrease urban crime, which is the most overwhelming reason why unlawful gun violence happens in the first place?

Overall, this report is clearly nothing but another attack on the Second Amendment, which is exactly why it is getting so much media attention.  Under the guise of an unbiased report, these professional organizations are pushing for tighter gun control and giving ammo to gun grabbers across the nation.

After all, who can argue with a bunch of doctors and lawyers?

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of

Latest Reviews