By Tyler Reidhead

Many government and healthcare officials – usually government healthcare officials – have recently called for stricter gun control legislation, claiming we have an ‘epidemic’ because ‘thousands of lives are being needlessly lost to gun violence’. As a student and soon-to-be graduate student in the healthcare industry, I don’t think that term means what they want it to mean…

First, let’s define epidemic. The term is used to refer to any situation where the level of disease is substantially higher than is expected in a population during a specific time period. What does that mean? The CDC reckons the expected number of deaths from the flu in any given season would be anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000, depending on the strain of influenza. The average would be about 36,000 deaths, and so anything much over the high-end estimate of 49,000 would constitute an epidemic. In other words, it would be a much higher-than-expected level of lethality. (For the statistical breakdown and explanation of how it’s calculated, click here.) 

If we measure by the CDC’s own standards then, gun violence and firearms-related deaths in America do not, in fact, constitute an epidemic. Even with the much-publicized-though-statistically-insignificant shootings of 2012, violent crime seems to be on a continual downward trend in recent years — which means it’s actually below the expected levels.

The use of the ‘e’ word got me thinking, though. Let’s play by their rules for a minute and think of gun violence as an epidemic. Wouldn’t it make sense to use the same methods to eradicate gun violence that we use to fight other epidemics?

Here’s where the concept of ‘herd immunity’ comes in. For diseases like polio, rubella, and smallpox, once about 85% of the population is either vaccinated or immune, the disease can’t spread in the population. A few unlucky members of the 15% who are not immune may contract the disease, but they will be isolated cases. Thus, the herd becomes immune, even if every individual is not.

How does this apply to guns? Gun control creates gun-free zones, which are like massive quarantine zones for healthy people. Think Native American populations, circa 1770. Suddenly you have someone with a disease who enters that unprotected population, and lots of people die very quickly.

So what?, you say. Rather than vaccinate everyone, why not just vaccinate the few people most likely to get the disease? Like those who work with diseased people regularly, for example? Nope. Doesn’t work. Herd immunity only works if the vast majority of the herd is protected. Sure, the 3-5% of the population you vaccinated won’t get sick and die, but everyone else is at risk. The same is true of limiting guns to law enforcement, government officials, and the military – they’ll be protected, but they simply do not have the numbers to be everywhere at once, and a lot of the unprotected will die.

“So,” you cry, “why not just quarantine the sick ones?” Or, in relevant terms, why not just lock up all the dangerous people?

With almost any disease, determining who’s sick is difficult before they start showing symptoms. Once symptoms appear, they’ve already had plenty of time to infect others and the damage is done. The only way to stop them would be mandatory daily blood testing of the entire population. Not practical or possible.

In gun control terms, since we can’t tell who’s crazy until they start acting crazy, we’d have to have regular mandatory psych evaluations. For everyone. Also not practical or possible. And even if it were, it’s a pretty scary thought experiment in the law of unintended consequences.

As with any sound, scientifically verifiable principle, there are those who refuse to believe that vaccines prevent disease. These people ignore numerous studies and proofs and claim it’s all a conspiracy between the government and big drug companies. Sound familiar?

To those who understand science and can think logically, however, the obvious conclusion is that vaccinations save lives by preventing the spread of infectious disease. Why is it so hard to see that, in the same way, armed citizens save lives by preventing the spread of violence?

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24 Responses to Herd Immunity and Gun Control – Stopping the Epidemic

  1. Awesome analogy and analysis.
    The real trouble is that the very thought that anti-gun efforts may be to blame for helping create the environment conducive to criminal activities & its inherent violence will never be acknowledged or accepted by the anti-gun crowd.

  2. “In gun control terms, since we can’t tell who’s crazy until they start acting crazy, we’d have to have regular mandatory psych evaluations. For everyone. Also not practical or possible. And even if it were, it’s a pretty scary thought experiment in the law of unintended consequences.”

    Ladies and gentlemen, the Slippery Slope, indeed.

  3. This guy hit it out of the park.

    My fear is that all the sound logic and reason supported by facts and scientific method contained here will reach too few among us who really need to hear it, and fewer still will comprehend its meaning.

  4. Just like the terms “Assault Rifle,” “Reasonable measure’s,” and “Gun control.” To the supporters of civilian disarmament, the word “Epidemic’s” meaning is whatever they want it to mean, so long as it serves it’s purpose of deception and is excepted by the majority, Websters Dictionary be damned.

  5. this is very well thought out. too bad we are not actually taking a scientific approach – if we were we would not be lumping suicides with homicides to start since those have very different root causes.

    the antis will say (devils advocate) this is also an argument for complete disarmament: no one should have a weapon precisely because we cannot tell who’s sick to start. The fact that only 1/2 of suicides are by firearm (the other half, other means), and we have the same suicide rate as other countries are cleverly ignored. If we could only take away poison, belts, ropes, knives…

    again, well done.

  6. Using the concept of ‘herd immunity’ has been a very successful method I’ve been employing for a while. I encourage others to read up on it and add it to your ‘toolbox’.

  7. Thanks for this piece. I’ve often used my microbiology class in my discussions with pro-disarmers. I’m always the first to bring up that the 2nd Amendment is for protection against a destructive government. They usually say something to the effect of “that was hundreds of years ago, we don’t face the threat of a tyrannical government anymore.”
    That is when I go on to explain the concept of vaccinations. We have people out there who don’t believe vaccinations are necessary because we don’t see outbreaks of polio or measles. In other words, we don’t need vaccinations because we don’t have outbreaks. These people don’t understand the concept of herd immunity and how vaccinations are successful. This is the same logic as pro-disarmers saying the 2nd Amendment isn’t needed anymore because we don’t face that threat. They don’t understand the concept of civilian armament acting as an additional check and balance to the government.
    This explains why are government uses more subtle and sneaky ways to be destructive, which scares me more than an upfront destructive government

  8. It would be interesting to do computer simulations on this, since I know there are similar stuff dealing with epidemics, and come up with minimal percentage for herd immunity, etc.

  9. The “disease” hasn’t yet been specified. To say we want to inoculate against “gun violence” is to say we are looking for a cure for “disease” rather than a specific ailment.
    That being said, lets assume the disease we ARE fighting is spree-killings, the first thing that would have to go are the gun free zones. As you said, this island of uninfected persons are vulnerable to infection from a single crazy-person. It also seems to me the more armed people (the inoculated) the less likely of the outbreak huge death toll – even if shootings on average increase, the incidence of mass shootings drops dramatically.
    But I digress, the point is the use of the term “epidemic” is hyperbolic at best, an I agree. There is no talk about the child-drowning epidemic, or the car-accident epidemic. I wish the media and politicians got called on this more often.

    • Why don’t we switch to thinking, and, acting against the 500,000 ‘missing’ children each year?!
      Where are our priorities?!
      Where are the politicians who’ll speak up for the silent, ‘missing’ 500,000 children?!
      ‘gun control’ and you got a half million missing children…you should be extremely disappointed, aghast, with yourselves and your priorities!
      I speak for the children as my son was ‘taken’ by government agency, murdered.
      Those who know will be before the Highest Court of The Most High soon enough.
      dr brown ain’t lookin’ for trouble, he’s finding it everywhre he goes, without tryin’…’gonna’ fix it where he can.

  10. Until the blood-thirsty liberals recognize their own hypocrisy and consider the tens of millions of babies they have put under the knife by the means of abortion, we will NEVER NEVER EVER have a “rationale” discussion about firearms. Until that time comes it best they not even suggest “if banning firearms can save even one life”… !

    I’d best not comment beyond that otherwise I might break a “code of conduct”rule. Suffice to say, those people are pure EVIL.

  11. Superb. This is one of the best anti-“gun control” essays I have ever read. Spread it far and wide, folks.

  12. Your analogy isn’t valid. There are numerous studies that prove vaccines DON’T work. The right to keep arms (thereby protecting yourself and loved ones) is not given by any human, therefore can’t be taken away except by force. There are many ways to keep from getting diseases other than vaccines.

    As far as your statement, “As with any sound, scientifically verifiable principle, there are those who refuse to believe that vaccines prevent disease.” That’s what the ‘global warming, climate change’ people say, yet, there are many scientists who don’t agree. Just because there are certain ‘ studies’ doesn’t PROVE anything. You also have to discern the motives and methods behind the studies.

    As far as owning guns is concerned, I’m in agreement. As far as vaccines are concerned, you need to broaden your reading.

    Have a GREAT day!

  13. What gets me about these “studies” is that they dishonestly never consider both sides of the equation–they never study the number of defensive gun uses. We all know, that if they did, they would find that defensive gun uses are far, far more common than illegal gun uses. How can any “study” be valid if it only looks at 1/2 of the universe of data?

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