Guns, Germs, and Science: Public
Health Approaches to Gun Control
by David B.
Presentation for the Tenth Annual
Alumni Day Program
College of Public Health
University of Oklahoma
Health Sciences Center at Oklahoma
Friday, October 14, 1994
Childrenís Hospital of
Nicholson Tower, 5th
Good morning. Thank you for inviting
Traditionally, the gun issue in America has been
studied by scholars in the two fields of my own expertise: law, and criminology.
Legal scholars have studied issues such as the meaning of the Second Amendmentís
guarantee of "the right of the people to keep and bear arms," as well as
parallel provisions in state constitutions.
Criminologists have studied data regarding the
legitimate protective use of guns and the criminal misuse of guns, and various
strategies for reducing the latter without interfering with the former.
Twenty-five years ago, both law and criminology had very little of substance to
add to the gun debate. But in the last two decades, there has been an explosion
of scholarship regarding the gun question. And the scholars have come to a
surprising degree of consensus.
In the field of legal scholarship, the primary
question has been answered: the Second Amendment was plainly intended to
guarantee a right of individuals to possess arms. The essential purpose of this
guarantee was not to protect sporting uses of guns, but to facilitate resistance
to criminal governments, which was seen as simply a larger case of resistance to
individual criminals. One interesting piece of new scholarship argues that an
individual right to own handguns for personal protection can be found in the
federal Ninth Amendment. Nicholas J. Johnson, Beyond the Second Amendment: An
Individual Right to Arms Viewed through the Ninth Amendment, 24 Rutgers L.J.
It was generally expected that the deterrent
effect of widespread citizen possession of arms would deter potential tyrants,
and thus make unnecessary the actual use of firearms in revolution.
There are still plenty of legal questions to be
resolved regarding the boundaries of the Second Amendment. But as to the
question of original intent, the debate is well-settled. Indeed, there is not a
law professor in this country who in the last 25 years has published anything in
a law journal claiming that the Second Amendment was not intended to protect an
Within the field of criminology, there has also
been a growth of scholarship. The criminologists have not been as unanimous in
their answers as have been the legal scholars -- partly because the legal
scholars had one clear question to answer first, and once the historical
documents surrounding the creation of the Second Amendment were studied, the
answer became obvious.
But criminological research has in the last two
decades suggested that the most extreme forms of gun control -- such as
prohibitions on handguns, or extremely rigorous gun licensing systems -- are not
effective, and perhaps even counterproductive.
The criminologists also point out that guns are
used quite frequently for lawful defensive purposes, and in that capacity,
provide a major public safety benefit.
In the last decade, especially in the last five
years, the legal and criminological scholars looking at the gun issue have been
joined by researchers in the public health and medical fields, with much of the
research being funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control.
Most of these researchers tell us that "Violence
is a disease," that "Guns are a disease vector," and that we should start
looking at gun control as a public health issue, rather than a legal or criminal
issue. Indeed, we are told that the gun control debate is now ended, since the
"scientific" public health approach has supplied all the answers.
I have to tell you how strange these phrases
sound to many people who are trained in law or criminology. Imagine, if you
would, that the direction of this inter-disciplinary crossing was reversed. What
if criminologists and law professors started getting involved in
Suppose, for example, that I was here to tell
you that it is time to start thinking of communicable disease as a criminal and
legal issue, rather than a public health issue, and this is time to recognize
that "Disease is a crime."
In support of this new, "legal" approach, I
might point out that while the public health approach has made important
progress in reducing communicable disease, the public health approach has
succeeded in wiping out entirely only a few diseases, such as smallpox. In the
1960s, the Centers for Disease Control promised that measles in America would be
eradicated entirely within four years, yet a quarter of a century later, measles
is still with us.
I would further point out that disease endangers
the person who is diseased, just as does drug abuse, which is currently treated
as criminal problem. Communicable diseases, being communicable, also endanger
other people far more directly than does drug use, or most other forms of
In many cases, a person who comes down with a
communicable disease could have prevented the disease through proper
precautions, ranging from inoculation to hand-washing. Moreover, persons who are
carriers of communicable diseases have often consciously disregarded a risk they
pose to innocent people -- for example by coming to work even though they know
they are sick.
If we can characterize the level of violence in
American society as "epidemic," then we could certainly say that the total,
overall level of communicable diseases, including everything from the flu to
chicken pox to AIDS is also epidemic. More properly, chicken pox and violence
might be described as having high endemic levels, but we should not be too
concerned with technical details when public safety is involved.
Accordingly, my modest proposal for "Treating
disease as a crime" would impose criminal penalties, including fines and
imprisonment, on people who have communicable diseases.
The most severe criminal penalties would be
applied to people whose misconduct inflicts a large number of people with a
Lesser punishments would apply to persons who
infect only themselves with minor diseases through negligence, rather than
recklessness. A person who catches a cold because he failed to wash his hands
often enough would only spend a week in jail.
For persons who catch diseases through no fault
of their own, administrative fines, but no jail time would be imposed, much as
we currently impose fines on businesses which inadvertently violate highly
technical environmental regulations.
Of course my modest proposal to treat disease
like a crime would also include all the enforcement tools currently available to
law enforcement. For example, if you know you have a cold, and you drive to work
anyway, thereby endangering your co-workers, your automobile will be forfeited
as an instrumentality of crime. As with current drug-related forfeitures,
disease-related forfeitures will up to the discretion of the police, with
essentially no judicial review.
At first, my modest proposal will encounter
substantial resistance, even within the law enforcement community. But
eventually the National Institute of Justice will start funding millions of
dollars of research designed to reduce communicable disease by treating it as a
The research will never be published in serious
journals of epidemiology or public health. But the new research will be
published in highly-regarded legal journals, such as the Harvard Law
The new criminal disease research will rarely
make reference to previous medical research. Indeed, it will recycle half-baked
ideas for disease reduction that have already been studied and disproven in the
But the Harvard Law Review and the
Yale Law Journal have a lot of prestige, and a much better
public-relations machine than does the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Newspapers and the electronic media -- which already take a sensational,
salacious, and short-sighted approach to covering the crime issue -- will eat up
and regurgitate the press-releases from the Harvard Law Review detailing
the latest set of factoids and hysteria cooked up by law professors with federal
grants trying to write articles about communicable disease.
So after a few years, and a few tens of millions
of dollars of federally-funded research, most of what the general public hears
in a "scientific" way about disease control will come from articles about
Rubella in the Harvard Law Review, and studies of Syphilis in the
Journal of Contemporary Law.
Predictably, the American Medical Association
and other Washington lobby groups will try to resist the campaign to treat
disease as a crime. These counter-efforts will be dismissed by the mainstream
media. After all, the AMA -- unlike the Harvard Law Review and the
federal government -- is obviously biased on the disease issue. Doctors
collectively make billions of dollars when diseased people are given medical
treatment, rather than put in prison, where they belong. The AMAís objections to
treating disease as a crime deserve no more serious analysis than the NRAís
objections to treating violence as a disease.
If you find my modest proposal to treat disease
a crime to be rather disturbing -- and I hope you do -- then perhaps you can
sympathize a little with the legal scholars and criminologists who are disturbed
by the current campaign to treat violence as a disease.
And in any case, it is time for the "violence as
a disease" theory to undergo a much more rigorous analysis than it has thus far
Even if we accept that violence is a disease,
the public health solution is far less obvious than the gun prohibition movement
and some of its public health allies would suggest. Their analysis
simplistically echoes the words of Dr. Katherine Christoffel of the American
Academy of Pediatrics: "Guns are a virus...They are causing an epidemic of death
by gunshot, which should be treated like any epidemic -- you get rid of the
Let me suggest that sensible public health
policy does not support this conclusion so readily.
Flies are a disease vector for polio. Yet the
CDCís rigid fly control programs of the early 1950s proved ineffective against
polio. Are guns in America, like flies, already so numerous that attempting to
reduce their numbers significantly enough to reduce the violence-disease rate is
likely to be an exercise in futility? Much, but not all, criminological
researchers suggests that the answer to this question is "yes."
CDC can get caught up in programs that fit with
the political wishes of the White House or Congress, but which have little
scientific validity. The rat control programs of the 1960s are one example.
Another is the Times Beach, Missouri, evacuation in early 1980s, which forced
hundreds of people out of their homes because of alleged dioxin contamination,
for what turned out to be unscientific, politically-driven reasons. The
evacuation was the work of Dr. Vernon Houk, who later became a leader in the
CDCís gun prohibition efforts.
For something to be a genuine disease vector,
there must be some association between prevalence of disease vector (guns) and
the disease (violence). In fact, there is a strong correlation. But the
correlation is an inverse one. Regions and population groups with the most guns
have the lowest levels of gun violence. Periods when the per capita gun
supply is rising rapidly, such as the early 1980s, have been periods of falling
Serious research about a source of disease must
consider the disease may have a pharmakopic effect. The evidence suggests that
firearms do. The latest, most in-depth research suggests that firearms are used
as often as 2.5 million times a year for self-defense against criminal attack.
Defensive use usually involves simply brandishing or referring to a gun, rather
than firing it.
Finally, the "public health" campaign to outlaw
guns because of the allegedly successful gun control policies of other nations
ignores the potential criminogenic effect of those controls.
The chart below sets forth crime and suicide
rates for several nations, per 100,000 population. (The table is taken from the
author's book The Samurai, the Mountie, and the Cowboy, at 407. In the
book, the Japanese burglary figure is incorrectly reported as "2351.2." The
error occurred because the author's draft listed the figure as "251.2," and when
the author marked page proofs to substitute a "3" for the "5" in the burglary
figure, a production error resulted in the "3" being inserted but the "5" not
being deleted. The author regrets any confusion caused by the error.)
While the United States has much more violent
crime than the other nations (including crimes such as rape, which rarely
involve guns), the United States anomalously has less burglary. In terms
of burglaries perpetrated against occupied residences, the American advantage is
In Canada, for example, a Toronto study found
that 48% of burglaries were against occupied homes, and 21% involved a
confrontation with the victim; only 13% of U.S. residential burglaries are
attempted against occupied homes. Similarly, most Canadian residential
burglaries occur in the nighttime, while American burglars are known to prefer
daytime entry to reduce the risk of an armed confrontation. A study of an
unnamed "northern city" in Ontario for the years 1965-70 also appears to show a
relatively high level of burglary against occupied residences. The study
reported that 12.2% of burglaries were daytime, 69.5% were nighttime, and 18.3%
were unknown. It is certain that no person was home for the "unknown burglaries"
since if someone had been home, the time of entry would be known. A large
percentage of the nighttime burglaries may have involved a person at home, since
most people are at home at night. Peter Chimbros, A Study of Breaking and
Entering Offenses in "Northern City" Ontario, in Crime in Canadian
Society 325-26 (Robert A. Silverman & James J. Teevan Jr., 1975). After
Canada's stricter 1977 controls (which generally prohibited handgun possession
for protection) took effect, the Canadian overall breaking and entering rate
rose 25%, and surpassed the American rate, which had been declining. A 1982
British survey found 59 percent of attempted burglaries involved an occupied
home (again compared to just 13 percent in the United States).
In the Republic of Ireland, where gun control is
also severe, burglars have little reluctance about attacking an occupied
residence. Claire Nee and Maxwell Taylor, Residential Burglary in the
Republic of Ireland: Some Support of the Situational Approach, in
Whose Law and Order? Aspects of Crime and Social Control in Irish Society 143
(Mike Tomlinson, Tony Varley, and Ciaran McCullagh eds., Belfast: Soc. Ass'n of
Why should American criminals, who have proven
that they engage in murder, rape, and robbery at such a higher rate than their
counterparts in other nations, display such a curious reluctance to perpetrate
burglaries, particularly against occupied residences? Could the answer be that
they are afraid of getting shot? When an American burglar strikes at an occupied
residence, his chance of being shot is equal to his chance of being sent to
jail. Accordingly, a significant reduction in the number of Americans keeping
loaded handguns in the home could lead to a sharp increase in the burglary rate,
and to many more burglaries perpetrated while victim families are present in the
Epidemiologists in particular, and public health
researchers in general, have excellent quantitative skills, traceable in part to
Pierre Charles-Alexander Louis and his methode numerique, which pioneered
the use of statistics in medical research. Most criminologists have similar
quantitative skills, but very few legal researchers do.
But precise measurement, even though apparently
scientific, is not always so. Phrenology, a highly-regarded "science" of
19th-century, produced elaborate measurements of the shape of peopleís heads.
These shapes supposedly were associated with certain traits, such as lack of
intelligence ("low-brow") or criminal propensity. Today, we recognize that the
phrenology data is of no scientific value. In regards to firearms, the public
health research, like phrenology research, too often tells us more and more
about less and less.
An example of the contribution that the public
health community can contribute to the gun control debate is Lois Fingerhutís
research regarding teenage homicide rates, the most detailed research ever
regarding the topic. Nationally, the overall homicide rate is 9 or 10 per
100,000 population, a rate that has varied little over the past 25 years. For
teenagers of all combinations of races and genders in rural areas, the homicide
rate is close to zero. Interestingly, these teenagers are the ones with the
readiest access to firearms.
But for Black males aged 15 to 19 in core urban
areas, the homicide rate is an incredible 160.
Fingerhut suggests that the solution to this
problem is gun control; as I will detail in a little bit, I think that there are
more effective solutions. People may differ as to how to respond to this awful
death rate, but everyone should be grateful to Ms. Fingerhut and the CDC for
providing us with important data detailing the immensity of the problem. As the
CDCís William Farr put it, "The death rate is a fact; anything beyond that is an
Unfortunately, the product of public health
research about guns is too often bad data. A good example of bad data is the
claim of Dr. Arthur Kellermann in a study released last fall that claims that
the presence of a gun in the home raises the risk of murder by 2.7
The study fails to adequately address the cause
and effect relationship. Do guns cause people to be murdered, or are people
already at risk of being murdered more likely to buy guns?
We can see the cause-and-effect issue by looking
carefully at Kellermannís own odds ratios. The Kellermann article, which
produced the widely-circulated risk ratio for gun ownership, reports an ever
higher risk ratio (4.4) for renting rather than owning the place where
you live. Does this mean that you suddenly become safer when your apartment
building goes condo? Of course not.
Likewise, are you safer when you get rid of your
One of the confounding factors not reported in
the Kellermann article is whether the crime victim is a criminal. Criminals are
at much higher risk of being murdered than the population in general. And
criminals may be more likely to own guns. So perhaps the connection between
apartments, handguns, and homicide is that each of these elements may be
associated with criminality, relative to the general population.
The possibility that Kellermann has reversed
cause and effect is supported by his findings regarding "controlled" access
security systems. Such security systems produced a higher crude odds
ratio than did gun ownership. Does this mean that a cautious homeowner should,
after getting rid of handguns, convince his landlord to get rid of the security
guard in the apartment lobby? To the contrary, the presence of security guards
in the lobby (like guns in the home), may simply be a reflection of the dangers
faced by people who are at risked of being murdered, and who are taking sensible
steps (through armed security guards, and through personal armament) to protect
The Kellermann article also highlights the
weakness of the case-control method when taken beyond the confines of disease.
Letís apply the studyís case-control methodology to something else. Letís
compare 200 students, all of whom scored double 800s on the SAT, with 200
socioeconomically similar students who did not score so high. We find that the
high-scoring students are about three times more likely to own a chess set than
the lower-scoring students. Accordingly, we claim that "persons who own chess
sets are three times more likely to score an 800 on the SAT than are persons who
do not own chess sets."
I hope that the SAT chess study would not
convince high school students to run out and buy chess sets, in the hopes of
improving their SAT results.
We donít know of the students with chess sets
actually played chess much. Even if they did play chess a lot, we donít know if
chess helped build verbal analogy skills and other skills with lead to SAT
success, or if people who are already smart and likely to do well on the SAT are
simply more like to enjoy chess sets, or be given chess sets as
If we just substitute "being murdered" for
"scoring an 800 on the SAT," and substitute "gun" for "chess set," we have the
study that supposedly proves that owning a gun increases the odds that youíll be
Finally, a study which only looks at dead people
is not a very good measure of the protective benefits of gun
In short, the medical gun prohibition literature
is frequently suffers from the same defect which the sociologist Herbert Blumer
found in so much sociology: "To select (usually arbitrarily) some one form of
empirical reference and to assume that the operationalized study of this one
form catches the full empirical coverage of the concept or
Not all of the federally-funded "guns are germs"
studies are as flawed as the study we just discussed. But most of them are. The
article handout by Doctor Suter dissects most of the famous guns and health
The medical scholarship does a reasonably good
job of quantifying firearms deaths. But the literature is so full of ignorant
statements about how guns function, hostility to the notion that guns might
sometimes have a pharmakopic effect (the victimís gun serving as a "remedy" to
the criminalís gun), vicious denunciations of gun owners, and a complete
incomprehension as to why anyone would actually own a gun as to be of very
limited value in formulating gun control policy. There is no effort to enter the
world of the gun owner, to see guns as gun owners see them. Accordingly, the
medical literature regarding guns is generally as flat and sterile as would be
research about wines written by a hard-shell Baptist preacher whose lips have
never tasted a drop. As Blumer observed, "the scholar who lacks firsthand
familiarity is highly unlikely to recognize that he is missing
There is another problem with the medical
intervention in the gun issue. Too often, it is based on an appeal to authority,
rather than to logic. Doctors--unlike lawyers, Congress, and used car
salesman--enjoy great credibility in the eyes of the American people. But the
further that doctors stray from medicine, the greater the risk of destroying
When criticized -- whether by Dr. Paul Blackman
of the National Rifle Association -- or by eminent sociologists such as James D.
Wright of Tulane University -- or by physicians such as Doctor Suter, the
response of the gun prohibition movement and its public health allies is
generally to attack the motives of the critic, rather than to answer the
This sort of response is inappropriate for
First of all, it is antithetical to the
scientific method. If an article suffers from fundamental statistical flaws,
those flaws do not disappear simply because the NRA points them out.
Secondly, the most prominent public health
scholars on the gun debate, such as Doctor Kellermann, or Doctor Christoffel
from the American Academy of Pediatrics, are themselves ideologues and political
activists. I do not think that this fact disqualifies them from producing
research that should be carefully considered.
Most of the people in the legal academy who
write about legal control of obscenity, for example, have passionate views about
freedom of speech, sexual freedom, or feminism. Nobody in the legal academy
would suggest that Catherine MacKinnon, who believes deeply in radical feminism,
or Alan Dershowitz, who believes deeply in freedom of speech, should not have
their writings considered carefully simply because they are passionate about
what they are writing about.
Thus, it is simply childish for researchers who
are subject to criticism to attempt to deflect that criticism by sneeringly
pointing out that the critic believes in the Second Amendment.
Moreover, personalization of the issue tends to
raise rather than settle questions about the desirability of gun control. Both
sides of debate have people for whom research has confirmed their previous
intuitions, for or against guns. But there is also a class of scholars who
started studying the gun issue and were strong supporters of one viewpoint, but
who revised their views in light of the evidence.
Every scholar who has "switched" has "switched"
to the side that is skeptical of controls.
Indeed, most of the prominent academic voices
who are gun control skeptics -- including law professors Sanford Levinson and
William Van Alstyne, and criminologists Gary Kleck and James Wright -- are
people who when they began studying guns were supporters of the gun control
agenda. I do not know of a single scholar who has published a pro-control
article who started out as a skeptic of gun control.
This suggests how heavily the weight of the
evidence is distributed, once people begin studying the evidence. Rather than
taking my word, study the research yourself.
In the long term, a little recognition of
medicineís limits might be in order. Even in the field of actual communicable
disease, there is a great deal that science cannot answer. The Centers for
Disease Control is the descendant of the Malaria Control in War Areas unit of
the U.S. Public Health Service. Despite intensive malaria-control efforts, such
as draining swamps, and spreading DDT over vast areas, the Malaria Control unit
made little progress against malaria until the disease essentially disappeared
in 1945, for reasons which even today are not understood.
Even classic medical problems involving
communicable diseases may not be entirely solvable through medical approaches.
Sexually transmitted diseases, including the old-fashioned ones, remain a very
serious public health problem, despite decades of hard work by the public health
How much more so may public health prove unable
to solve problems further afield?
Several centuries ago, physicians treated wounds
by caring for the weapon that caused it. By the armarium urguentum,
prescribed for gunshot and other wounds in 1622, "If the wound is large, the
weapon with which the patient has been wounded should be anointed daily;
otherwise, every two or three days. The weapon should be kept in pure linen and
a warm place but not too hot, nor squalid, lest the patient suffer
Today, it would seem absurd to deal with gunshot
wounds by treating the gun rather than the wound. But prestige organs of the
medical establishment such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the
Journal of the American Medical Association claim to have found the
solution for the public health problem of woundings: remove guns from society.
Like the armarium urguentum in its time,
this view is widely accepted among public health professionals of this time. As
in the 17th century, a focus on the object that seemed to "cause" the distress
-- the weapon -- was a solution that missed the real cause of the distress. The
distress of a wound, and the distresses of a violent society, have causes more
profound than physical objects.
The focus on objects rather than the people can
lead public health to absurd results. Consider, for example, the public health
involvement in the nuclear war debate during the 1980s.
Traditionally, the risks of nuclear war and how
to reduce them had been considered a diplomatic or military issue.
Public health made useful contributions to the
nuclear debate. A famous 1962 article in the New England Journal of Medicine
documented the widespread presence of strontium 90 in childrenís teeth. This
research proved to be a major spur to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty the next
But the public health contribution to the
nuclear issue was often an unhelpful focus solely on the nuclear arms themselves
(just as modern public health focuses on the guns). Physicians for Social
Responsibility promoted unilateral American nuclear disarmament as the
supposedly scientific response to nuclear danger. This was simply philosophical
pacifism masquerading as science. Dr. Helen Caldicott, predicted in 1984 that
nuclear with the USSR was "a mathematical certainty" if Ronald Reagan were
Dr. Caldicott's scientific conclusions
notwithstanding, the world survived Mr. Reagan's re-election. With the threat of
nuclear war receding, pacifists are turning their attention away from disarming
the American government, and towards disarming the American people. Like
Physicians for Social Responsibility, which found no moral distinction between a
nuclear weapon owned by the American government and one owned by a Communist
dictatorship, domestic pacifists consider a firearm owned for protection to be
as illegitimate as one owned for crime. The pacifist elements of the medical
community today promote the disarmament of law-abiding, mentally healthy
Americans, and they wrap their moral claim in the cloak of "science."
History showed that the core of the nuclear
problem was a political one. When the political system in USSR changed, the
threat of nuclear war vanished dramatically. The way to eliminate nuclear terror
was to remove the terrorists who were running the Soviet Union.
In regards to gun violence in America, the core
problem again involves human behavior, not inanimate weapons.
Gun crime is falling for most population groups,
but it is soaring for inner-city minority males, bringing the overall rate
In a way, the current evidence regarding gun
misuse vindicates one of the critics of Dr. Louis Pasteur. In 1880, Pasteur
discovered that he could make chickens sick by injecting them with cholera
germs. But a few years later, Max von Pettenkofer (a Professor of Hygiene in
Munich) drank a cup of pure cholera germs, with no ill effect. Pettenkofer is
credited with establishing that germs by themselves do not cause infection;
there must also be a susceptible population and a suitable environment. In the
case of inner-city male minority teenagers, there is plainly a population and
environment susceptible to the "disease" of gun violence. Yet the medical
research about the disease looks almost exclusively at guns, and pays little
attention to the factors that have made one particular portion of the population
immensely more susceptible to the violence disease than every other part of the
Until we begin the social reconstruction that
will change the lives of the poor in Americaís inner cities, nothing will change
about the gun problem.
The inner cities already have the strictest gun
laws in U.S.
Nearly a century of prohibition, starting with
the Harrison Narcotics Act in 1911, has not deprived inner city teenagers of
easy access to cocaine, even though cocaine has to be grown on another
continent. How can it be seriously asserted that any set of controls, including
prohibition, will deprive them of guns?
What we have to do is deprive them of the
inclination to use guns in a criminal manner, and that is a much more difficult
enterprise than passing gun control legislation.
The energy spent on the gun debate would be far
better focused on a discussion of how to help the inner cities. Gary Kleck
favors a massive jobs program. I think that it is more important to make drastic
changes in the welfare system, a system that subsidizes illegitimacy, the number
one correlate of criminal behavior.
We must also re-think the "drug war" which has
inflicted so much violence in our cities, and which burdens the criminal justice
system so heavily that enforcement of the laws against violent crime is
We need to start reforming the dysfunctional
government school system. Some people would suggest that the government schools
need more money, while I believe that the parents and students who are stuck in
this dysfunctional system need the power to choose their own schools, through a
voucher system. A good school may be the last hope to rescue a child from a
dysfunctional family before he begins a criminal career that will lead to his
own death, and the deaths of several other people.
However these debates on how to help the inner
cities are resolved, these are the debates that we must begin having if we are
serious about reducing the disease of gun violence.
Gun control sometimes plays an what Ivan Ilich
calls an "iatrogenic" role in distracting popular attention from the conditions
which allow crime to flourish. Kleck summarizes: "Fixating on guns seems to be,
for many people, a fetish which allows them to ignore the more intransigent
causes of American violence, including its dying cities, inequality,
deteriorating family structure, and the all-pervasive economic and social
consequences of a history of slavery and racism...All parties to the crime
debate would do well to give more concentrated attention to more difficult, but
far more relevant, issues like how to generate more good-paying jobs for the
underclass, an issue which is at the heart of the violence problem." Gun control
distracts the public and the legislature and the medical community from the more
difficult tasks of confronting the culture of poverty.
We are now reaping the consequences of 30 years
spent talking about guns rather than doing something effective about poverty and
hopelessness. If we really want to reduce the disease of violence, it is time
for us to start acting.
[The 17 endnotes from the original
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