A summary of an article from National Catholic Reporter, Feb. 1-14 issue:
David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, lays out his thesis: Gun violence is a public health threat, and society should tackle it as we have the hazards of motor vehicles, cigarettes and poisons. All three products circulate in society, but we have found ways to make them safer.
He suggests that we move the focus from gun ownership to one of injury prevention.
Public health practitioners, when trying to reduce hazards of consumer products, think it more useful to look at what caused injury rather than who caused it. This will lead to better product design.
It seems with guns today, we are like the 1950s with cars. Manufacturers said then it was all the driver's fault: "Cars don't kill people, people kill people." Public health physicians began inquiring into causes of car injuries. They found:
a. Persons being speared by steering columns
b. Faces ripped apart by shattered glass
c. Persons being thrown out of cars.
Today we have collapsible steering columns, safety glass and seat belts.
We have a horrific gun safety problem. Eighty-five Americans are killed and several hundred wounded by guns each day. Firearms are the second leading killer of American youth. Compared to other developed countries, the U.S. rates of crime like assault, robbery or sexual attack is average. The difference is the lethality of the crime. The U.S. has the most guns, weakest laws and most homicides of all the countries. So crimes, acts of passion, domestic disputes, suicide attempts, etc., often end in fatalities.
In an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jan. 7), Dr. Hemenway makes 12 recommendations to reduce gun harm. Here are a few:
a. Physicians counseling on storage and safe use of firearms, comparable to what is provided for poisons.
b. Require guns to have child-proof locking devices — like the child-proof packaging of medicines and poisons.
c. Require gun users, like the drivers of cars, to be licensed.
d. A national tax on guns and ammo (similar to the tobacco tax) to better address the societal costs of gun violence and provide funding for gun-safety classes and violence-reduction classes.
Just as the campaigns against smoking and drunk driving have been successful in the last 50 years, so any harm-reduction strategy for firearms would also require changing social norms.
However, to design effective public health policies requires data. Since the 1990s, many barriers have been set up, preventing the collection of the necessary data. All firearm research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was curtailed by Congress after the gun industry sponsored the bill that cut $2.6 million from the CDC injury budget — the exact amount the CDC had been spending annually on gun research.
Congress has also stopped the CDC from asking any questions about firearms in its Behavioral Risk Facts Survey. Yet other agencies collect a wealth of information after every car or plane accident. Since 2011, Congress prohibits the National Institute of Health (NIH) from promoting or advocating gun control. This congressional prohibition came after the NIH-backed study drew links between alcoholism and gun violence.
The 2005 law, Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms, grants the firearm industry broad immunity from consumer liability, which eliminates incentives for manufacturers to voluntarily make their products safer.
An example of this is the fact that there are 100 patents for child-proofing guns, but the gun industry has resisted using any of them.