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?