No, Firearms Aren’t a Public Health Concern

The New York Times published an 11-minute documentary in June titled “‘It Was Really a Love Story.’ How an N.R.A. Ally Became a Gun Safety Advocate,” which tells a heartwarming story of how friendship transcended political differences and convinced a right-wing partisan to come to terms with the truth about firearms.

The film stars a couple of improbable friends: Dr. Mark L. Rosenberg, who for many years oversaw research on gun violence at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the director of its National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and “NRA Pointman” Rep. Jay Dickey (R–Ark.), who was the author of an amendment inserted into a 1996 spending bill that prohibited the CDC from using federal funds to advocate for gun control.

The story is also framed by the findings of a famous (or infamous) 1993 CDC-funded study, which was “the first piece that we funded by external scientists,” Rosenberg recounts. It allegedly showed that owning guns made Americans overwhelmingly less safe. According to the film, the National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbied for the Dickey Amendment because of the 1993 study’s damning results. The organization “didn’t think it would be good for business,” Rosenberg says, “and they went to Congress, and they said, ‘You have got to stop this research because it’s going to result in all Americans losing their right to have a gun in their homes.'”

Reason’s video above, in response to the NYT’s video they are referencing, goes into why firearms are not a public health concern. Not that they shouldn’t be studied, or documented, or researched, simply that it makes no sense to treat them like the flu and research the like a contagion.

Firearms are not a virus anymore than a power drill or a kitchen knife is. Firearms are a tool, a weapon, and have a specific series of purposes in polite society. A virus doesn’t, it is an unavoidable force of nature that we battle against in a logical manner by limiting its ability to spread through proper behaviors and immunizations.

Now in that regard, fighting gun violence and fighting a virus sound similar. But that is only until you get into methodology. A virus doesn’t have motivation in the cognitive sense, it is a base organism whose mutations survive in proper hosts. A virus too lethal kills itself by killing its host population, a virus too easy to kill and not fast enough in its mutations dies off as a population naturally becomes immune to it.

Those factors do not translate to the causes of “gun violence” since that title actually encompasses a few not interrelated events and outcomes.

  • Homicide, planned
  • Homicide, unplanned
  • Homicide, accidental
  • Suicide
  • Assault with injury
  • Assault without injury
  • Injury, accidental

Seven separate human motivated events, zero that can be solved by washing you hands and seeing a doctor regularly. We can debate doctors visits preventing suicide, but the rates seem to suggest annual physicals aren’t influencing the triggers as much as folks choosing to seek and being able to fairly smoothly receive help for their mental health status.

Human motivations are not virologic, despite what Hugo Weaving may have said in the Matrix. Human motivations follow logical progressions of effort for result. Even if we cannot emotionally understand a given motive, or do so with traditional logic of a balanced and normative outlook, that logic train is there.

Because of *perception of situation or event* I will *action* is basic human behavior, situation, decision, reaction. It should not and cannot be treated like a virus, because it is not one. Treating it like one will not yield informative or effective results for prevention and deterrence, because you cannot ‘catch’ gun violence by failing to wash your hands. You ‘catch’ it, catching a bullet is a common phrase, by someone being violent deliberately to you or in your proximity. You are affected by deliberate action only. This is one of the crucial flaws with the numerous studies RAND rejected over and over again, they take human motivations out of the variable pool and treat firearms like they are radioactive and might trigger cancer.

Proximity to alcohol does not trigger drunk driving, the combination of decisions to drink it to inebriation and then to operate a vehicle do. Decision, then consequence. These decisions are not made in a vacuum either, decisions are made in a field of parallel and sometimes competing decisions.

Removing human free agency from our equations is poor stats building and won’t help us. We have several human behavior tracks we must address, I outlined them roughly above. It is in addressing these motivations that we will improve the levels of violence in our communities.

Keith Finch
Keith is the Editor-in-Chief of GAT Marketing Agency, Inc. A USMC Infantry Veteran and Small Arms and Artillery Technician, Keith covers the evolving training and technology from across the shooting industry. A Certified Instructor since 2009, he has taught concealed weapons courses in the West Michigan area in the years since and continues to pursue training and teaching opportunities as they arise.