The Epidemiological Fallacy of Gun Control

umaryland.edu

By MarkPA

Humans are injured and die from gun-shot wounds; and so, doctors lay claim to gun-control as a “public-health” issue. If this were true then it would follow that warfare is likewise a public-health issue about which doctors – and epidemiologists – have special expertise to contribute. Here at DRGO, we reject this assumption.

Biological scientists of all stripes are as free as any other professionals to comment on public safety issues. Yet their training and expertise have little to do with the substantive issues in play with guns (or warfare, for that matter).

When the only tool you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail. When your tool is epidemiology, you see the whole world as filled with pathogens and the vectors that disseminate them. This worldview is nonsense applied to guns.

A pathogen is a germ or virus that can produce a disease such as smallpox. Or perhaps an inorganic substance such as tetra-ethyl lead that was once used as a gasoline additive. Epidemiologists speak of transmission of a pathogen via a “vector”, such as the mosquito in the case of malaria.

The holy grail of pathogen control is eradication of the very last instance of the pathogen, such as was accomplished with smallpox at the end of the 1970s. The alternative can be control of all vectors, such as was accomplished with malaria through mosquito control in the US by the mid-20th century.

Epidemiologists think gun violence can be prevented by eliminating guns or, more realistically, reduced by restricting gun sales. In their double-speak, that means any firearms transfer from one possessor to another including loans for hunting or target practice.  But epidemiology concepts of pathogens and vectors don’t apply to artifacts such as guns.

Gun-rights advocates note that guns are inanimate objects “that don’t pull their own triggers.” While this is true and makes for a cute sound-bite, the observation does not fully explain why how misguided epidemiologists are.

A firearm is not a pathogen in any way analogous to the smallpox virus or an inorganic molecule such as lead. Every nation, and every government, concurred with the goal of smallpox eradication. Likewise, every society advanced enough to consume gasoline understands that “ethyl” contributes to lead poisoning in the atmosphere, harming the health of children in urban areas.

In contrast, every government arms its military and police—even the Holy See maintains guns in its armory. Most societies indulge some guns in the civilian sector for security, pest-control, hunting or recreation. Even the Japanese are recruiting female hunters (once a taboo) to hunt deer and wild boar. Unlike smallpox, governments and societies hold a consensus that guns will continue to serve legitimate purposes. As such, eliminating gun manufacturing and distribution is impossible. Gun eradication is out-of-the-question.

That leaves us with the possibility of vector control, i.e., limiting gun-trade/transfer and ultimately, controlling gun-possession.  Remember, firearms can be made in factories or by individual craftsmen, now including the relatively unskilled using 3D printers or CNC mills at home.

Borders are porous. As Americans are keenly aware, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is overwhelmed by cross-border trafficking of drugs and humans. There is no control possible in movement across state lines or in shipments from U.S. off-shore territories like the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico. So anyone can move firearms across the United States’ international borders and across the fifty states’ lines.

Quite unlike a pathogen such as smallpox or lead, there is no national consensus about possessing and trading guns in America. For that matter, there is no national consensus about illicit drugs or illegal immigration. Moreover, distinctions can be made among immigration, drugs and guns.

Constitutionally, the Federal government has power to regulate, even to forbid, immigration. Congress’s power to regulate drugs is the subject of serious debate. But based on the Heller and McDonald Supreme Court decisions, it is clear that both Congress and the states’ legislatures “shall not . . . infringe” on the “right to keep and bear arms” and that handguns, shotguns and rifles are indisputably protected.

America’s culture is not shame-based. Shame has not deterred illegal drug use or employing illegal aliens. Shame will not dissuade nearly half of America’s families to abandon their constitutional right to arms.  Americans are not going to surrender as many as 350 million guns, some of which are family heirlooms.

America’s governments are limited in their constitutional powers, as well as in their practical abilities, to control cottage manufacture, trade, transfer, and possession of guns. The black-market for guns is no more controllable than is the black market for drugs.  Likewise, the cottage industry in guns is no more controllable than it is for drugs. Possession in the home is impossible to control to any significant degree.

Examining just one source, American gun shops sell approximately 2 million guns per month. The last time when sales were below 1 million per month was 10 years ago. How many of these sales were “straw purchases” on behalf of prohibited persons? We have no clue. There is no shortage of adults with clean backgrounds willing to “lie for the other guy”. The Feds punish only a dozen per year.

Criminals and mass-killers are among the most motivated of acquirers. The quest for these objects of their desire will not be impeded by even the most vigorous enforcement regimes.

The best opportunity to minimize misuse of firearms – if any exists at all – is to intervene on unlawful possession by individuals who are likely to be dangerous to themselves or others. We have laws forbidding possession by minors, those adjudicated as incompetent or committed to mental treatment, and felons.

Society can choose to enforce these laws more or less vigorously. Ironically, present policy is to be lenient on felons in possession. When a gun is confiscated, too frequently no charges are filed. Often, illegal possession is plea-bargained away for a guilty plea on a related charge.

Under these circumstances, it is abundantly clear that epidemiology’s concepts of controlling “pathogens” or “vectors” are inapplicable to “gun control.” Guns are not “pathogens.” Lawful commerce in firearms precludes total “vector control.”

If the skills of the epidemiologist are to be applied at all, they should address public hygiene in mental illness generally. Mental illness is clearly associated with suicide, and there is evidence linking mental illness to some mass shootings and (rarely) other violent crime.

The proper subject of the epidemiologist is only the shooter, not the gun.

 

Life-long gun owner, NRA Instructor, Massad Ayoob graduate and financial analyst ‘MarkPA’ is inspired by our inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. He holds that having the means to defend oneself and one’s community are vital to securing them.

This article was originally published at drgo.us and is reprinted here with permission. 

comments

  1. avatar Cruzo1981 says:

    More people die per year in the US from medical malpractice, so Dr.s are also a public health issue…

    1. avatar Dave M says:

      According to ‘Consumer’s Reports”, 440,000 per year is US that can be DOCUMENTED from death certificates; actual number is close to double that if all medical errors were reported! Truly a staggering figure.

  2. avatar Texican says:

    Over 400,000 die each year from preventable malpractice. That’s over 10 times the number who die from guns including suicides! Physician, heal thyself!

  3. avatar 'liljoe says:

    I love how the number of deaths from doctors increase as the numbers of comments about the issue does.

    400,000 a year? Hardly.

      1. avatar ‘liljoe says:

        Touché 🙂

        I honestly had no idea, but when estimates range almost 100% it makes me question their validity… although I’m sure that’s more me being defensive than anything else.

        I always tell medical students that the best doctors treat patients like they would their own family, maybe that needs to be our new creed instead of “do no harm”.

        1. avatar pg2 says:

          https://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-primary-care-policy-center/Publications_PDFs/A154.pdf

          https://www.bmj.com/content/353/bmj.i2139

          joe, these are only the reported numbers. The actual numbers are likely much higher. Still waiting with popcorn for your reply on the abundance of data that ‘thousands of men and women and billions of dollars’ have provided showing conclusive evidence of vaccine safety. But we both know you’ll never provide any of that data, because you ASSUMED it exists, and it doesn’t.

        2. avatar Toni says:

          not to mention that SIDS and shaken baby syndrome both have symptoms associated with some of the possible adverse reactions to vaccines and are never listed as adverse reactions unless full onset is withing a couple of days of the vaccine

        3. avatar Pg2 says:

          The hypocrisy of these gun toting doctors who want to be praised for recognizing gun ownership is ridiculous. Just as bad as gun owning people who allegedly support our individual liberties while at the same time support things like mandatory vaccination. Severe disconnect, regardless if the products are safe or not.

  4. avatar Toni says:

    on the lead issue in fuel. what was used to replace lead in fuel at least here in australia were potent carcinogens. yes lead was a health problem but as i see it adding potent carcinogens as a replacement to lead is just as big a health issue. the other side of it is that cars running on the newer “unleaded” fuels wear out a lot faster forcing people to replace their cars sooner. to me that simply sounds like a win win for the mainstream medical system (more cancer = more patients at at least $250000 per patient) and for car manufacturers. many old cars designed to run leaded fuel are still running if a lead replacement system is put in. you wont find that on any new cars lasting that long

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      If you look around, you should be able to find tetra-ethyl lead fuel additives…

      1. avatar Toni says:

        hey Geoff PR. yes there are though they can be hard to find at least here in the land of OZ. there are also inline systems that you can put in to add it back into it as well and that is what i was talking about.

        1. avatar pg2 says:

          They still making Holdens down there?

        2. avatar Toni says:

          nope holden has gone off shore now as of last year. personally i would not buy a car that was made after 1990. would rather build up and old one that i knew was going to be able to be counted on out bush and that i could make makeshift repairs to to get home if i did have a breakdown. most of the new ones are designed so even most mechanics have to get it towed to a shop if it breaks down. if it came down to it i would rather go on the lam and just have a horse than rely on a new car

        3. avatar Pg2 says:

          Lol, I drove an I-6 ford falcon when I lived in Oz, was nice car.

        4. avatar Toni says:

          what model was it? the only ford i ever had was a XE falcon wagon. started out with XE motor in it. blew that one up, put a XC motor in it, that one blew the rings, put a XF motor in it and that one caught fire. also had XC wagon springs under the back of it so it sat higher in the back end unless you were towing a heavy trailer

        5. avatar Pg2 says:

          Can’t recall, was a sedan, low KM, bought it used.

  5. avatar Benny Hinn Laden says:

    Last year in the US there were 4,758,788 deaths as a result of medical malpractice.

    Coincidentally, the state with the fewest cases of medical malpractice deaths was Alabama because rednecks generally do not seek out medical care.

    Jesus H Christ, we need to do something about these murderous doctors and Alabama.

  6. avatar ATTAGReader says:

    I am not sure where this guy is on the issue. Sounds good until we come to “There is no shortage of adults with clean backgrounds willing to “lie for the other guy”.” Seriously? Where? Maybe an MS 13 guy kept clean and paid to lie for his homies, amigos, or whatever they call them, but seriously, no shortage? Does anyone else doubt that statement? I hope I am right on this.

    1. avatar meadowsr says:

      Siblings. Significant others. It doesn’t take much to convince such persons to “help me out”.

      1. avatar Red in CO says:

        Doubly true if the prohibited person in question is a felon who is no longer involved with stupid shit. I know plenty of guys who have records but have been straight for years; they get their friends or wives or girlfriends or whoever to buy guns on their behalf for hunting, recreation, defense, etc, but NOT for offensive use. No offensive use means very little chance of getting caught and a minimal chance of getting caught means little risk for the straw purchaser

  7. avatar Rick_in_NH says:

    My dad was a physician back in the 1960’s. He refused to join the AMA because of its support of liberal causes like Medicare, socialized medicine, and government interference in the practice of medicine. Will the AMA ever learn?

    1. avatar pg2 says:

      The current old timers are leaving the profession in droves. We are importing young doctors from 3rd world socialist hell holes for a reason. They will blindly follow whatever the AMA, CDC, Gov.org tells them to do.

  8. avatar TFred says:

    Good article but one SERIOUS flaw:

    “But based on the Heller and McDonald Supreme Court decisions…”

    No. Not “based on.” Perhaps “affirmed by,” but NOT “based on.”

  9. avatar CZJay says:

    They like to interpret “public safety,” “national security” and “inter-state commerce” in a manner that “gives” the government powers that have not been written into law or voted on.

    This is one reason why we should not “interpret” things or use court rulings/opinions nor let others do the same. Look at what happens with religious texts and song lyrics.

    Don’t play their game because you won’t be able to ever win at it as it’s rigged on their behalf.

    1. avatar pg2 says:

      Exactly.

  10. avatar Geoff PR says:

    “Life-long gun owner, NRA Instructor, Massad Ayoob graduate and financial analyst ‘MarkPA’ is inspired by our inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. ”

    This was authored by Mas Ayoob and MarkPA?

    1. avatar Alan Esworthy says:

      @Geoff PR – Looks like a missing comma, and should be:
      “Life-long gun owner, NRA Instructor, Massad Ayoob graduate, and financial analyst ‘MarkPA’ is inspired by…”

      In other words, the author is MarkPA and one of his qualifications is that he’s a M. A. training graduate.

  11. avatar Pseudo says:

    I was going to write a really indignant reply until I read the last line of the article. There is a ton of epidemiological evidence that phenomena that don’t have a real physical germ as the cause behave in the same way as biological epidemics. Suicides can be socially contagious. I think the thing with the most explanatory power with respect to mass shootings is that they are also socially contagious given that guns aren’t really more available then they have been in the last 50 years if you ignore the AWB (even if you don’t, look at the period before the AWB and the argument still appears valid). Either way you’re straight up wrong that epidemiological examination of guns of themselves is not useful. Far from being abundantly clear that such techniques are not useful, law enforcement currently traces guns using epidemiological techniques to identify vectors for legally purchased guns entering the black market. Even as crippled as that approach is given that we can’t track all sales, it still provides useful information. It would be much more efficacious if there were a requirement to report of all private sales. I know that 99.9% of people who frequent this site oppose that idea wholeheartedly, presumably either because it gives the government a database of gun owners and represents a minor inconvenience to gun owners, but it would seriously aid law enforcement in tracking the flow of guns into the black market. Also, the argument that such a list could facilitate potential illegal action by the government in the future (they’re taking our guns!) and is therefore unacceptable (since the act of keeping a list is not in and of itself an infringement upon the right to bear arms-at least not that I can easily see) is the SAME argument for, say, an assault weapons ban. Some party might use the thing under consideration to commit a horrible crime in the future. We have to prevent that by removing the possibility of that thing. It’s the same argument.

    1. avatar Garrison Hall says:

      “Also, the argument that such a list could facilitate potential illegal action by the government in the future (they’re taking our guns!) and is therefore unacceptable (since the act of keeping a list is not in and of itself an infringement upon the right to bear arms . . .”

      Yes it is. The fundamental problem with social epidemiology is that it is inherently vulnerable to politicization. Your claim that the government keeping “a list” is not potentially dangerous to 2nd amendment rights is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. The NRA has been wise to these kinds of specious arguments for several decades and has done a lot to prevent the government from “keeping lists”. Moreover, People Of The Gun are not generally persuaded by gun-control advocates telling us how beneficial government backed investigations into our way of live is good for us. Simply put: don’t pee on my leg and then tell me it’s raining.

      1. avatar Toni says:

        here in OZ they prefer to put their boot on your neck, pee on your face and tell you it is raining

      2. avatar Cymond says:

        “since the act of keeping a list is not in and of itself an infringement upon the right to bear arms”

        “Your claim that the government keeping “a list” is not potentially dangerous to 2nd amendment rights is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.”

        NO.

        Your reading comprehension needs work. He said that the list “IN AND OF ITSELF” is not infringement. He never denied that it is POTENTIALLY dangerous.

        We all know that governments could abuse such information easily, and many have in the past. It is reasonable to fear that they would again.

        That means we’re discussing banning something just because someone might missuse it in the future, regardless of the potential benefits. That’s generally something gun owners object to. It’s the same argument the antis use against guns. Of course, the difference is that responsible gun owners outnumber the comment criminal gun owners by something like 100,000 to 1. The same can’t be said of a political entity like the Federal government. A rogue gunman can kill dozens. A rogue government can kill millions.

  12. avatar Paul McMichael says:

    I remember once I had taken my then young son to his pediatrician. As he’s examining my son he asks, “Do you have guns in your house?” I said, “Sure, lots of them.” He began to lecture me on firearms safety. I laughed. “Doc” I said, “I’m a working cop and a firearms instructor. What do think you can tell me? Besides, John already owns a gun and I’m carrying a handgun now.” I thought he was going to faint. Why do people who know nothing about the subject continue to think they know more than those of us that have knowledge on the subject?

    1. avatar pg2 says:

      “Why do people who know nothing about the subject continue to think they know more than those of us that have knowledge on the subject?”-They(Doctors) don’t believe that. They have been tasked by their owners to perform information gathering on gun owners. Doctors often recommend things they know next to nothing about, but have been tasked to do so by their owners. Most doctors know zero about the medications and vaccinations they administer on a daily basis.

    2. avatar Garrison Hall says:

      And guess who is going to be empowered with the ability to arbitrarily define someone as “a danger to themselves and others”? A GP, social worker, marriage counselor, probation officer—really anybody who claims the most tenuous relationship to “mental health work” is going to be able to confiscate someone’s guns with a single phone call.

  13. avatar Mike B in WI says:

    “It would be much more efficacious if there were a requirement to report of all private sales.” And what is it about this requirement you propose that would cause ALL criminals to report all of their private sales?

    1. avatar Pseudo says:

      The requirement of reporting all private sales would identify the LAST legal owner: the entry point into the black market. This of course wouldn’t stop theft (not much we can do about that) and it wouldn’t stop false reporting of theft, but it would require would be straw purchasers to file false reports which would make them much easier to identify and investigate.

      1. avatar rt66paul says:

        A rhetorical question here; How many criminals use C&R weapons to do crimes? How many use antique weapons? C&R licenses are designed with collectors in mind, but some states require you to get other permits also(if you want to take advantage of the license). Why require background checks for C&R weapons between licensees?

        The only reason I can think of is to build a list of all firearms legally owned.

  14. avatar Pg2 says:

    Stopped reading at the “holy grail of pathogen control…..”, the author needs to brush up on the history of smallpox and smallpox vaccination and not repeat the often used CDC and pharmaceutical vaccine marketing sound bites.

  15. avatar Joe R. says:

    Gun control = People control

    And THAT’s a health issue.

    Like their I.Q., and the people paying these people to say such things: these doctors need to be rounded up.

  16. avatar pg2 says:

    Dear DRGO, this is from one of your own…except that she has both the intellectual honesty and the courage to do the right thing.

  17. avatar Oldshooter says:

    If this were to REALLY be treated with an epidemiological approach, the 1st step would be to identify areas of outbreaks, and 2nd, to identify transmission vectors. After all, if there is an E-Coli outbreak in Publix supermarkets in Spokane WA, no one sends teams to investigate Malaria in Miami. So, let’s identify outbreak areas – Oh, that’s right, they are almost all concentrated in a few black inner city slums. So that’s where we should concentrate our efforts. No one wants to hear THAT! Then let’s look for vectors – uh oh, what we find is gang members and those who embrace the drug and ‘Gangsta’ subculture. Double Uh Oh! Now how do we vaccinate against these vectors? Well, we could pass laws banning black possession of guns, but that was a failed policy since the end of the Civil War. So, how about working towards eliminating ‘Gangsta’ culture and legalizing drugs (the latter is how we got rid of much of the gang warfare resulting from alcohol prohibition in the 1920s)? Once again, the national leadership lacks the cojones even to consider this approach. Nevertheless, this is EXACTLY what using an actual epidemiological approach to the problem would have to recommend. So, antigun morons, be careful what you advocate!

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