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Dr. Robert B. Young of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership writes [via]

The idea of addressing “gun violence” as a public health problem persists among a number of scientists whom I think should know better: many of my fellow physicians, led by some of our specialty organizations. Truth be told, guns are not pathogens—it is how they are used that matters . . .

Epidemics are not characterized by gradual steady declines in morbidity and mortality, as homicides and violent crime have shown, accompanied by dramatic increases in gun ownership for 20 years. Their campaign is especially disingenuous as we find that our own health care professions are responsible for as many as 400,000 deaths and 10-20 times as much serious harm to patients every year.

Yes, over 30,000 Americans die yearly in shootings. About two thirds of those, suicides, can properly be considered health issues, because they almost always involve serious mental illness. Almost all the rest are homicides, which are criminal matters. The smattering of accidental shooting deaths, 505 in 2013, are from negligence or carelessness.

Beginning with its seminal papers, much of existing “‘public health” firearms research is biased and poorly designed.

Comparing American shooting deaths to other developed countries’ raw numbers is another mistake. Homicides and violent crime, even with guns, can increase after a country confiscates citizens’ firearms. If one excludes murders in our gang- and drug-infested, poverty stricken urban areas, the United States has very low levels of violent crime and homicide.

This is even more remarkable because we have the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. Considering that, the United States is among the safest places to live in the world.

But poor urban minority youth with little hope in their futures find identity in gangs, get pulled into drug addiction or drug dealing, and comprise the largest numbers of both perpetrators and victims of shootings. Individuals’ networks and associations highly correlate with risks of violence, and suggest potentially effective ways to intervene preventively.

Examples have included Richmond, Virginia’s Project Exile and Cure Violence (formerly Ceasefire—Chicago) in Illinois. Variations in gun laws and rates of violent crime among cities and states also point strongly to interpersonal, cultural and economic factors affecting rates of violence (compare violent crime and shootings in Chicago, the District of Columbia, Los Angeles and New Orleans with, say, Vermont, Utah and New Hampshire).

Equating motor vehicles and traffic deaths with firearms and shooting deaths distorts reality—apples are not oranges, no matter if they are the same number. Traffic deaths are almost all accidental, involving human error. Shooting deaths, by contrast, are almost all intentional. Accidental deaths with firearms totaled only 505 in 2013.

Both gun accidents and homicides have been declining nationwide, even while the number of firearms in America has dramatically increased. We are far safer from accidental harm from our guns than our cars when they’re operated correctly. So don’t shoot while intoxicated or texting.

Health researchers rarely acknowledge any benefit of firearms. But the National Research Council estimated that there are between 500,000 and 3 million instances of active self-defense using firearms against crime and assault.

Too many overstate the role that mental illnesses play in the commission of violence, including violence done with guns. While most mass murderers of strangers probably have some, usually untreated, mental illness contributing to their acts, these events are extremely rare. The truth is that people with mental illness are no more likely to cause violence and much more likely to become victims than those in the general population.

Suicide is the issue when it comes to the impact of mental illness on firearm deaths: gun suicides have somewhat increased since 1999, but have declined as a proportion of all suicides. The immediate availability of a gun is a serious risk for someone with suicidal ideas. But as with homicide, we have to compare cultures to understand the deeper patterns of suicide.


Despite health researchers’ complaints, the number of “gun violence” studies published in medical journals has really increased although, as the field of medicine keeps growing, their proportion has lessened. Considering the related literature in criminology and economics, which health researchers largely ignore, there is actually more research than ever. Private funding of (anti-)gun research keeps increasing as has its underwriting of more political activism for gun control. Still, organized medicine wants more government funding of public health research into the causes and cures of “gun violence”.

Academics in every subject always want more money to support their work and to grow their fields.

The fact is, there is no limitation on the Centers for Disease Control to perform or fund such research. In 1996, Congress simply insisted that the CDC shall not use its public funding to advocate for gun control. Banning civilian firearms was the CDC leadership’s expressed agenda. Congress never restricted the CDC or other agencies from performing research into gun injuries and deaths.

(The relevant textnone of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”)

In fact, when Wilmington, Delaware asked the CDC for help to analyze the causes of its exploding homicide rate, the CDC did its job. It analyzed the city’s gun crime problem and made serious recommendations about addressing the underlying risks that draw people into it, rather than exploring further ineffective gun control measures.

There has been a great deal of noise and very little substance over the years by anti-gun medical, political and bureaucratic parties. The latest, delivering a petition to Congress from 2,000 physicians to remove those non-existent “funding restrictions for gun-violence research” is underwhelming. That is only 0.2% of the physicians in our country. There are many more than that among the millions of supporters of gun rights organizations, represented in part by Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership.

Robert B. Young, MD
Robert B. Young, MD

— Robert B. Young, MD is a psychiatrist practicing in Pittsford, NY, an associate clinical professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

[Editor’s Note: This article was originally written for National Journal, at the request of Larry Keane of the National Shooting Sports Federationin response to thed December 28, 2015 article: The Smartest Way to Address Gun Violence? Research, which called for more funding for public health research about “gun violence”.  Following the acquisition of National Journal by The Atlantic, this article was not published.]

Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, a project of the Second Amendment Foundation.

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  1. So, I can touch a door knob and catch a cold or flu. and if I touch a gun I get homicidal rage. But not according to this doc. I want him for my doc.

  2. Why should you leave the high crime areas out, are or aren’t they part of the US? And therefore are or aren’t this crimes committed in the US? So, while I agree with you that comparison between countries is difficult, you don’t start with excluding areas which don’t support your story. Hey, I’m not even sure that Germany declares what weapon or if any weapon was used in a crime. I also agree with you that violent crime and deaths due to guns aren’t a public health issue. That’s really like saying that accidental deaths were a public health issue.

      • How would they be? Car, work, household and other deaths are mostly preventable, but isn’t that a safety issue not a strictly health issue or am I translating something in my head wrong?

        • “Public health refers to “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals.”It is concerned with threats to health based on population health analysis.”

          Accidental deaths or injuries are part of the whole issue of health. Teaching people no to shot themselves in the head is really no different than teaching them not to eat too much sugar.

          I think guns are a public health issue, but so what? Virtually every death is preventable, but most societies have decided that safety is second to many other things. Calling something a public health issue is not a problem, trying to ban something because its dangerous is.

        • I think people are more worried about today’s responses to health issues.
          For every moderate that says “tell people to eat less sugar” there’s a dozen extremists screaming “ban sugar and mandate society go vegan!”.

          I wouldn’t care about the specific label normally, but everything these days has become an excuse for heavy handed policy. A line should be drawn between our responses to diseases and accidents.

        • “…extremists screaming “ban sugar and mandate society go vegan!”

          Not really here nor there to the typic, but you ever run into one of those people, please remind them that all fruits have sugar and anything carbohydrate will immediately turn into sugar once it enters the body.

          Protein and fat from animals are sugar free, though.

        • Accidental deaths or injuries are part of the whole issue of health. Teaching people no to shot themselves in the head is really no different than teaching them not to eat too much sugar.

          I think guns are a public health issue, but so what? Virtually every death is preventable, but most societies have decided that safety is second to many other things. Calling something a public health issue is not a problem, trying to ban something because its dangerous is.

          Except that gun violence is flat-out not a public health issue, and yet that is one of the stated reasons by the medical community for trying to call it as such. It is a criminological issue, same as rapes, murders, assaults, robberies, beatings, etc…guns are not pathogens or pollutants.

    • Just my theory… High crime areas were excluded to show that in spite of high gun ownership in all areas, a low crime area remains a low crime area. A gun is not a disease that turns non violent Americans (in low crime areas) into violent criminals. A gun is just a tool. Further, more gun control laws would not work because they don’t stop criminals and suicides.

    • There are very good reasons to exclude gang-controlled drug-infested violence-prevailing inner cities. First, almost all of those areas prohibit legal gun ownership, disarming the citizens and leaving plenty of guns in the hands of criminals. Second, and this maybe somewhat difficult to understand for someone from Germany, American inner-cities are a different world from America. People make a conscious choice to live there (based on welfare payments) or to leave. Happily, 90% of America does not have those problems. Btw, Germany will soon be able to relate to these same inner-city issues – keep importing non-working parasites that will be installing Sharia to thank you. Being installed now.

    • “If one excludes murders in our gang- and drug-infested, poverty stricken urban areas, the United States has very low levels of violent crime and homicide….”

      Statistical cheating and nothing more.

      • “Statistical cheating and nothing more.”

        Not at all. The point here is that the comparison is always made between highly regulated and gun controlled Europe with the US where we have the right to keep and bear arms and protection of self. “Oh America has so much more gun violence than here in the UK where we are sane and control gun ownership.”

        Well the gang infested areas, as mentioned above by Alexander, are almost all in large Democrat controlled cities where gun ownership is forbidden – in other words just like Europe. If you want to compare the US where gun ownership is allowed by the constitution you have to exclude these places, then you will be comparing statist gun control (Europe) vs freedom and liberty.

        And here’s another thing. These gang infested wastelands could easily be cleaned up if the courts and the prisons would actually enforce gun and other crime laws. We hear all the time about people being arrested for violent crimes who have history of convictions a mile long. They are caught by police, pushed through the courts and then let back into society on probation or a plea bargained deal giving them little time behind bars, only to recommit within a short time. This is insanity!

        Broadly speaking, a violent crime should put you in prison for life. A crime committed with an illegal gun should get you 10 to 20 years in prison. If these two things were done in a serious way the gangs would quickly get the message and there would be a lot less violence.

        Why this is not done is anyone’s guess. Prisons cost money; socialist judges and DAs believe the crim can be turned into a good productive citizen (ya, sure); no room in prisons due to all the beds being taken by people who only smoked a little marijuana (I am skeptical of this one also).

        One might take a very jaded look at this and conclude that police and the justice system exist due to the fact that there is crime to be controlled – the more crime the more money they get from society. Is the explanation this simple? Of course not.

        The fact remains, where you have more law abiding citizens owning and carrying firearms, you have less crime and fewer victims. This is simple logic, and the data supports this.

        And there’s also this; gun control advocates insist that the state is the only entity that should be allowed to arm themselves. These people are not for the reduction in people owning guns, they just want it to be the right people – the state. If someone says to me, ‘you cannot have a gun, but I can’, I distrust this person and their motives. I don’t care if their motives are good, it is bad for society to take this route and in the end find out that the motives of the state are not good. By then it is too late and the people are left defenseless.

        Much better that everyone who wants to is allowed to be armed – and to be a law abiding citizen of course. Let is make violence and theft a crime and punish it appropriately. Owning a gun hurts no one, it is the use of the tool that needs to be addressed.

        Disarming the law abiding is wrong.

      • It’s not uncommon to discard outliers. Otherwise a few hot pockets can give the impression that a particular data point is in fact diffused across the system being studied, which is untrue. In the case of politicized study of gun violence, the diffused-through-society “epidemic” is precisely the false impression they want to give people. It recalls the old joke: 3 statisticians go hunting. They spot a deer and the first takes a shot, but misses 10 feet to the right. The 2nd takes a shot but misses 10 feet to the left. The 3rd jumps up and shouts “WE GOT HIM!”

      • It’s not statistical cheating, especially when gun homicides are only reported as ‘deaths per 100,000 people’. The dp100k reporting is meant to purposely skew and mislead people into thinking gun crimes are evenly distributed among the entire population, when they are not. They are highly concentrated in certain neighborhoods, in certain cities. Their crime numbers drive up the national statistics, making the entire USA appear to be a very dangerous place to live and it’s a false impression. But the dp100k reporting allows the govt/media to avoid having any difficult conversations about race or failed political ideologies. Repeat and remember: it’s the guns and only the guns, it’s always the guns fault, nothing else.

        • Okay, I reply here, because it should be easier at least for me that way.
          Here in Germany we already have high crime areas, with poverty problems, very violent dealers, drug addicts, criminal youth and so on, we call that “Problemviertel”. They’re also mostly in bigger cities like Hamburg, Berlin, Munich and so on. For example a few years ago we had dealers in Berlin chopping of heads and placing them in public parks. Or a shooting of a here famous boxer or a shooting between two motorcycle gangs last December. The problem might not be as big as the one in the US, but that is hard to say. Our gangsters may not get to guns as easily as yours but someone stabbed or bludgeoned to death is as dead as someone shot to death.
          So when discussing gun related violence you should include these parts of you’re country or otherwise you have to exclude these parts from other countries as well.

        • “germanguy says:
          March 5, 2016 at 16:01

          So when discussing gun related violence you should include these parts of you’re country or otherwise you have to exclude these parts from other countries as well.”

          An academic exercise of course, why don’t you do ahead and run the numbers?

          You don’t really have to, you know exactly what the results will be, the US has violent crime numbers that are right in line with you guys, which is exactly the point. This accusation that the US with our second amendment is some kind of war zone from sea to shining sea is bollocks.

          *And* we have the right to keep and bear arms, to protect ourselves and our families from bad actors who do have guns, both here and over there.

        • @Mr.: Where did I say you didn’t have that right?. Did you read all my comments? Probably not.
          I just said, that if you exclude you’re high crime areas from statistics about violent crime, you also have to exclude ours, otherwise you would corrupt your data and therefore you’re argument would become invalid.

  3. Doctor,Doctor, Doctor. Not much of a doctor if he doesn’t know of the infective power of a gun to turn an average law abiding citizen into a homicidal maniac. It is a disease factor!!

    At least, that is what I hear in the MSM.

    A psychiatrist that is not consumed with denial, delusion and the need to blame an inanimate object for the bad choices that people make. Will wonders never cease?

  4. I’m fine with acknowledging “gun violence” as a disease, as long as we admit that the Drug-War is the pathogen we are fighting and street-gangs are the vector.

      • Nonsense.

        Violence is natural. It is all around us: in the animal kingdom, in uncivilized human societies and civilized human societies.

        Violence is nothing more than the use of physical force to obtain a goal. Some goals are good: a parent physically stopping a child from running to traffic, for example, is technically “violent.”

        A DGU is inherently “violent” as well, which is another instance most of us would classify as “good” or at least “proper” use of violence.

        I think it would be very helpful if we stopped letting the Progressives co-opt language. “Violence” is like any other tool. It, taken by itself, is neither good nor bad. Crime, on the other hand, violent or otherwise, is morally wrong.

        It is “crime” that represents breaking society’s rules, and rampant, unchecked crime that indicates a breakdown of social structure. It does not matter if such crime is “violent” or not. The systemic problem that exists is a breakdown of common morality within a society, not the “tool” used to victimize other people.

      • Then how do account for social structures and indeed civilization itself rising out of violence and barbarism in the first place? Non-starter there, I’m afraid.

    • I look at it as the Drug War is the wrong medicine and the street gangs are the allergic reaction to it.

  5. When it comes to suicide by gun (and suicides in general) drugs and/or alcohol are often involved. But yeah – blame the gun.

  6. I had a cousin who got heavily into drugs 40 years and never got off them hang himself recently. No one blamed the rope.

    My favourite but now retired doctor I met at the rifle range. His replacement doesn’t shot but likes venison when I bring it in.

    If they start asking about guns I’ll be changing medical centres

  7. If guns are a disease, can they make a pill for it?

    Side effects may induce incoherent blabbering, manicial rage, bi-polar episodes, rashes, and posterior leakage.

    The disease is better than the cure.

  8. I don’t believe gun violence is a public health issue. I DO think that it’s unfair to compare America to someplace like, say, Sweden where they don’t have the underlying socio-economic issues that help drive crime. But excluding violence in high-violence areas when the point you’re trying to make is about comparative violence levels is completely intellectually dishonest.

    Pro-gun BS is no less BS. And sloppy propaganda won’t convince anyone.

    • Neither will your own ignorance. There are plenty places in the world with those “underlying socio-economic issues that help drive crime”, that are “gun-free” and still have ridiculous murder rates (with guns). You can’t say to gangs and drug dealers “if you only leave your guns behind, we’ll leave you alone”.

      Crud holes like Chiraq are that way precisely because the people there not only tolerate it but are powerless to do anything about it; and people like you have _abandoned_ them. My solution, give the gangbangers a couple of houses in _your_ neighborhood, and I bet it’ll get dealt with appropriately.

    • “But excluding violence in high-violence areas when the point you’re trying to make is about comparative violence levels is completely intellectually dishonest.”

      You are still missing the point others have mentioned above.

      To make the claim that “gun violence” is a disease, gun violence would have to be independent of location and legality of gun ownership. Therefore, to answer that question, the comparison that needs to be made is “guns ok” areas to “guns bad” areas. To make that comparison, one has to actually use “guns ok” areas for that side of the equation.

      The short version is that this is a question of cause and effect. The real question being asked is “do guns CAUSE violent crime?” If the answer to that is “yes,” and it a major cause, then areas with lots of guns + little violent crime won’t exist. Savvy?

      Yet they do. That’s why you throw out the violent, “no gun” areas in this particular analysis…to make the comparison the author is trying to make.

  9. I belive the excluding of high crime areas is good idea, hard to defend but interesting. In Poland we have same issue: all gun related crimes in one basket. How to convince society that legal guns are not dangerous if you dont have any statistics showing that?? All we have is overall statistics mixed up together: legal, unlegal and LEO… And societies belives those statistics, because they never been on the range. As a gun enthusiast i find it offensive that statistics tries to put me in same row with gun members and thats whats hapening all the time…

  10. The reframing to “public health” is simply a land grab. Everything impacts your health. So, if “public health” is the charter, everything is now our business, and conveniently without any of those pesky trade-offs.

    “No guns for you, because public health. Now remember to stay inside where it is safe. Also, because public it’s O K to trade off *you* for *us*. But have fun!”

    Medicine is about improving the lives of individual people, for their own sake, and by their own choice. If you wanna choose for me, get me declared incompetent first.

    That’s what’s behind this stuff every time. They want to tell you what to do. For their benefit. For your sake, in their terms (which always seems to score them a rake-off, somehow.) Of both. All else is misdirection.

  11. Doctor, certainly you know there is no such thing as an “accident”. It is an incident. It is all predictable. Guns, cars, whatever, it doesn’t matter. Don’t negate your generally strong arguments with claims of accidental.

  12. In the january issue of the e journal Medscape, there was an interesting article titled “Should Physicians have a role in gun safety counselling”
    There were 754 comments. Only medical professionals are allowed to comment there.
    The great majority of commenters said that Physicians have no special expertise in gun safety.
    Many said that if a patient asked them about the topic, the correct response was to refer the patient to an NRA approved safety couse to learn best practices for gun safety.
    As a physician and gun enthusiast, I was pleased to see that about 90% of commenters were pro gun.

  13. “So don’t shoot while intoxicated or texting.”

    Lots of good information here, but this was my favorite line.

  14. I think we gun owners / 2A advocates make a huge mistake in using, and not decrying the use of, this made up, meaningless term: ‘Gun violence’

    There are assaults, murders, suicides, and accidents in which guns may be used. But suicide has about as much to do with homicide as rape does with bank robbery.

    To allow the verbal charade to continue unchallenged, and worse, to participate in it, legitimizes this pernicious, intentionally misleading practice.

    There is no logical way to pretend that, if one wishes to effect a decrease in homicide, that one policy solution exsists that will have a meaningful impact on all homcide; much less so that it will also help decrease suicide. Removing ‘guns’ from that discussion lays bare its utter ridiculousness.

    We must make a practice of calling this blatant ‘sleight of verbiage’ at every turn. Because the goal of it’s use is NOT to decrease death; there is no defensible, logical way to claim that it is in intelligent conversation.

    The ONLY logical goal it’s use serves is civilian disarmament. By allowing others to use the term unchallenged plays into the anti’s hands. It’s like agreeing to start a ‘best of three’ contest while conceding the first round.

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