Home NSSF Re-Branding Crime as a Public Health Problem is a Bad Prescription

Re-Branding Crime as a Public Health Problem is a Bad Prescription

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By Larry Keane

There’s an article in the New York Times this week about an increase in private funding for research into what the author calls “gun violence research.” The real story is how the criminal misuse of firearms has been rebranded as a public health problem, versus what it really is: a criminal justice issue. As millions of law-abiding U.S. firearms owners, hunters, and sports shooters have known for centuries, guns are not a disease.

Despite the popularity of the rebranding efforts to make gun control sexy to a new generation, calling gun crimes a public health problem raises a major issue. Mis-identifying the problem ensures that no real solutions will be found.

No vaccine will be discovered. No pill will be developed. And more importantly, no solutions will be identified that can help tackle the actual drivers of crime, such as gang violence, illegal drugs, and poverty. Funneling billions of dollars into asking the wrong questions will only yield the wrong “answers.”

What Really Works

The firearms and ammunition industry knows this and has a long-standing history of acting to effect real changes that help make our communities safer.

The industry sees the major criminal justice problem of firearms getting into the hands of criminals prohibited under law from owning guns. Rather than calling this a disease, we work with ATF on initiatives such as Don’t Lie for the Other Guy and Operation Secure Store. All gun sales that go through a retailer are subject to an FBI background check, whether they are in a store, at a gun show or online. To help make sure these checks are as strong as possible, the industry launched the FixNICS initiative to ensure states and federal agencies are submitting the records that show someone is a prohibited person.

To help prevent accidents, unauthorized access and suicides, since 1999, the industry has led an initiative called Project ChildSafe, to promote firearms responsibility and provide safety education to all gun owners, young adults and children.

Through partnerships with more than 15,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, the program has provided more than 38 million free firearm safety kits to gun owners in all 50 states and the five U.S. territories to help prevent firearms accidents, theft and misuse. That’s in addition to the more than 70 million free locking devices manufacturers have included with new firearms sold since 1998 and continue to do today.

Rather than funding research into the wrong policy questions, we would encourage foundations and major donors to re-examine the actual drivers of criminal misuse of firearms. There are solutions to be implemented. But you won’t find them in a science lab.


Larry Keane is Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade association.

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  1. Mandatory death sentences and long mandatory minimums might work. Its only fair that if you take someone’s life while committing a crime you forfeit yours!

    • Undermining the entire concept of Western Civilization to prevent “gun violence” or crime in general is akin to abandoning the free market to save the free market.

      • One could argue that western civilization is already dead, or at the very least on life support. Not saying that’s cool, or anything. But that’s where we’re at.

    • They’ll change the definition of “crime”. If you fight to get your keys/car back? If you punch back, and no one sees the first punch? It starts with the Red Flag law. Will it be used in divorce cases, like the alleged “child abuse” accusations were? I feel sorry for you guys who discover your partner is a deceptive nut job. She can destroy you with lies.

  2. This is an area where I would say that nuance, that word again, is required.

    No, “gun violence” is not a disease but the underlying causes for a lot of crime and violence bear some resemblance to disease transmission. Using certain epidemiological models to understand that behavior and the transmission of the ideas behind it isn’t problematic. However, that’s as far as the usefulness of the model goes. Treatment of the issue at hand is completely different.

    There is no issue with applying one discipline to understanding another discipline people do that all the time with great results. If this were not the case we could never adapt to new situations or create new things.

    The trick is to grasp where the efficacy of the first discipline ends in regard to the second and act accordingly.

    • “Using certain epidemiological models to understand that behavior and the transmission of the ideas behind it isn’t problematic. ”

      I’m curious about this. Could you provide an example of a epidemiological model used this way?

      • Researchers saw a pattern in young girls suffering from Anorexia. They noticed that it seemed to cluster in socially linked groups and that when one group came into contact with another it tended to spread to the new group much like a disease.

    • Using certain epidemiological models to understand that behavior and the transmission of the ideas behind it isn’t problematic. However, that’s as far as the usefulness of the model goes.

      The problem is that once you say that epidemiological models are applicable, you’re implying that the solutions to epidemics might also be applicable.

      I’m not really inclined to give up due process, presumption of innocence, or the burden of proof protections our legal system has developed, and that is exactly what the ‘epidemiological’ advocates are pushing for.

      • Well, of course they are. That would result in them having more power, earning more money, and receiving more respect, right?

  3. The first issue, to us anyway, is that there is no “epidemic” of “gun violence” in general in the United States. Once you eliminate suicide, which is mental health issue, not a gun issue, especially since most suicides are otherwise law abiding individuals qualified to purchase firearms, then the “epidemic” is reduced to fewer than 15,000 deaths and roughly 80,000 injuries per year, 80% of which are gang related and which are solvable by the criminal justice system, i.e., incarceration. Most of the remaining 20% are the every day domestic violence and “road rage” that is inherent in the human condition, has been throughout our known history, and is not solvable by any means. All that is left is a small number of accidental deaths, a smattering of rapists and serial killers, and the occasional mass shooter. This last group accounts for roughly 1000 deaths in the last 50 years, hardly an “epidemic” by any metric one cares to use.

    So if these epidemiologists want to study something, they can join the ranks of the multitude that has studied gang violence for the last 50 years and found no workable solutions. Incarceration in juvenile hall is apparently a graduate school for teaching robbery, mugging and car theft; but the solution, keeping kids “out of the system,” just releases unrepentant teens back to commit more crimes. The slaps on the wrist in the regular criminal justice system do no better.
    Unfortunately, long sentences and long incarcerations have not been the solution because building, staffing, and maintaining prisons is hideously expensive. (As an aside, the two strongest unions in California are the Teachers Union and the Correctional Officers Union.) Instead of keeping malefactors in prison where they belong, they are released early to relieve prison overcrowding, so yet again, the root cause of gang violence is back on the street tougher, “wiser,” and probably more deadly, at least until they hit their thirties or forties.
    So we should not be surprised that politicians are happy to spend millions of dollars on “research” (often paid for by gun owners) because attacking guns is easier and certainly much cheaper than really trying to solve the insoluble issues of the inner city. They know it is meaningless, but it “sounds like” they are doing something to protect the public, even if it is really just a charade./

  4. There is no such thing as ‘Gun Violence’. There is only Criminal Violence.

    ‘ Gun Violence’ is another meaningless Globalist Elite MSM propaganda term just like ‘Climate Change’.

    • There’s science to support anthropogenic global heating. There’s no science to support that availability of guns causes violence.

      • “There’s questionable “science” based on manipulated data to support anthropogenic global heating.”


      • There’s data that when interpreted according to biases while simultaneously ignoring data that refutes ones conclusions there appears to be a scientific basis for the assumption of anthropogenic global warming.

        There, REALLY fixed it for you.

  5. This has the hallmarks of Rebecca Peters, the gun control zealot now ensconced in a UN civilian disarmament agency and her fellow traveler Dr Simon Chapman, Professor of public health at the University of New South Wales.

  6. Prohibitionists have been labeling violence (and drug use) a “public health problem” for over 100 years, going back at least to 1914.

    Calling violence a “Public health problem” is basically socialism- it absolves individuals of responsibility and makes it a collective problem. The collective solution is to ban guns, obviously.

    • No. Treating human violence as a public health problem is precisely the right way to do it. The problem is that the hoplophobes hijack the solution and turn it into their own sickness, their fear of guns.

      There is nothing Socialist about treating human violence as a human problem. That’s not anything Marx was remotely interested in. But everywhere the behavioral approach is used it sees a hell of a lot of success.

      Because it is about focusing on the root causes of humans being violent, not on the weapons they use.

      • “public health” treats everyone as if violence is contagious. It treats me for your violence. That is socialism. Like socialism everywhere, it will fail.

        The simple fact is: humans are predators. We kill for food, to protect territory, power, or love. Sometimes for no reason or a made up reason. Dolphins kill for sport, as do a lot of other predators. Humans do as well, because that is how we are wired.

        In nature, what deters predators from fighting to the death is self preservation. The weaker one backs off before they die.

        The problem with “public health” researchers is that they refuse to acknowledge the simple scientific fact about mans place in the food chain, and how we got here. It was not by being cute and cuddly.

        • No, that’s not it. It is not Socialism and it is not about non-violent people. If someone approaching “Gun violence” as a public health problem is thinking about non-violent people, they are liars. Anti-gun advocacy is not about public health it is about hoplophobia. They are anti-gun people hijacking the behavioral health approach for their own purposes.

          They are liars, call them out on it.

          When honest people, those with their heads screwed on properly, talk about stopping violence by treating it as a disease, they are only looking to those people who are violent. Gang violence in cities. Revenge cycles in cities, that sort of thing. What they do or do not think about guns is besides the point, they work on resolving the conflict, breaking the cycle among gangs.

          It’s good work, we need more of it.

          Curiously, Chicago let CureViolence.Org into some neighborhoods and when it worked too well they were kicked out. Probably because the local news media gave credit where it was due, instead of where politicians and hoplophobes wanted it.

        • No, violence is not a “disease.” I don’t “catch” violence by being on a plane with people with an assault conviction like I might catch measles.

          “Public health” and “behavioral health” is nothing more than junk science to push a politically correct euphemism to cover for people who make bad choices. It is junk science, based on cherry picked statistics, used to support an anti-gun prohibitionist narrative. Hopkins School of public health (Daniel Webster) cited some of this junk research to support anti-gun laws in Maryland in 2013, the result was homicide went up 35% the very next year. lol.

          Its socialist- everyone including law abiding people get punished for the bad choices of a handful of people.

  7. These people have the right idea about gang violence, inner city youth on youth revenge violence and some other things.


    There is no such thing as “gun violence”. All violence is HUMAN VIOLENCE. That can be approached as a public health problem. As a communicable disease problem. As an infectious disease problem. What CureViolence.Org does works, where they’ve been allowed to do their work.

    • Much as the communicable disease of brain dead Leftardism,it spreads like the plague.

  8. “Using certain epidemiological models to understand that behavior and the transmission of the ideas behind it isn’t problematic.” Like hell it’s not problematic. When social epidemiology works in service to something like gun-control it instantly ceases to be science and becomes politics. Typically, politicized science (climate change for example) is never willing to announce just how and why it has linked it’s methodology to a political movement.

    • Many good ideas can be corrupted for a political purpose. Doesn’t make the original idea, the one that was hijacked, less valid.

      It’s easy enough to test. If a group is talking about the behavioral roots of violence but spins loads of gun control chatter into it, they have hijacked the very good approach of “violence is a public health problem” for their illegitimate anti-gun campaign.

      If they leave guns out of it entirely, then they are honestly trying to fix the violence problem.

      • Sorry, but “. . . trying to fix the violence problem” IS the problem. Claiming that social epidemiology is empirical science sort of like claiming that Maxism is somehow “scientific”. It falls into the same category as behavioral economics which—like social epidemiology—is perfectly at home providing prescriptive “solutions” in rapidly changing, highly politicized societies. But, in saying this, I’m not trying to change your mind. This. Discussion. Is. Just. Not. Worth. Additional. Effort.

  9. I repeat for the Leftard morons,I have yet to ever see a gun be violent,a person can use a gun to commit violence,however a gun is a inanimate object that until there is human intervention is no more violent than a paper weight .

  10. “the actual drivers of crime, such as gang violence, illegal drugs, and poverty”

    No, welfare and fatherless childhoods are. The first exacerbates the second, and the second the first, and they both work together together to be worse than just one alone.
    Neither is completely controllable, but they both lead to the above gangs, drugs, and poverty.

    • I think you are absolutely correct. It is parents or more likely “parent” not raising children properly or letting children raise themselves.I don’t see how you can legislate morality or family values. If you are raised poorly you turn out poorly. I don’t know how to fix this problem other than encouraging people to live correctly. Stopping the welfare state is a good start

      • The best way to describe the effect of the welfare state is “rewarding unacceptable behavior”. ALL “welfare” in the US should be reduced to soup lines, since no one should ever starve in this great nation. But if you have no income, you had best be walking south while stopping at those soup kitchens, because you will freeze otherwise, zero housing assistance, zero aid to families with dependent children, medicaid, get a job or die in the street. If private agencies wish to support such nonsense, that is admirable, but is not tax deductible.

  11. They’re not doing it to solve the problem, they’re doing it because it’s hard to leverage state power over honest people using the criminal justice system.

  12. Once again we are being asked to trust the experts on a subject and just do what they ask. If there are unintended consequences then more laws and rules will be created. If it does nothing then we just need to wait until it does. If by some stroke of luck it produces a positive result credit will be taken and more policy will result.

    Sounds a lot like global warming debate doesn’t it?

  13. Violent crime IS a legitimate public health issue. When Tom batters Mary – by cutlery, club or gun – Mary suffers a physical injury or death.

    What does NOT follow is that the objective of research ought to be the cutlery/club/gun.

    And THAT is the problem. Governments, politicians, elites are distracting the audience by drawing their attention to the means of violence rather than the cause.

    We are inclined to think, automatically, of violence as a criminal-justice-system issue. By incarcerating those who have demonstrated their propensity to violence we are addressing THE issue. This viewpoint is apt to be true to some extent; incarceration is likely the only answer within the grasp of our state-of-the-art of social sciences.

    But our body politic has decided that we are at the limit of use of incarceration. The fraction of our population behind bars is highest of all countries in the world. The racial composition is politically incorrect. Taxpayers are revolting. However we might think about these arguments, they ARE controlling at the ballot box and in legislative chambers.

    There is ample reason to suspect that violent crime has a social, cultural and psychological/psychiatric origin. Does it occur at conception? Birth? Cradle? Primary-/middle-/high-school ages? These are questions that our social scientists OUGHT to be able to address. Are they impotent to do so?

    Or, are our social scientists deliberately AVOIDING delving into the causes of violence? To explore just one example, fatherless homes are often cited as correlated with crime. Correlation is not causation. Nevertheless, a fatherless home implies an environment during the formative years (cradle to school) that defined by a female-head-of-household. Often, multi-generational female-headed.

    For the sake of argument, let’s presume that criminals’ paternal guidance would NOT have had a POSITIVE influence on their sons’ career choices. Prescinding from that argument, what is going on in these female-headed households that influences children’s propensity to violence? Will social scientists dare to look into this question? Or, will they look away.

    It’s so much easier – politically correct – to blame guns (or cutlery or clubs) than to study the hand that rocks the cradle. Yet, we will make no substantial progress in reducing violence until we seriously study the antecedents rather than the means.

    • Violent crime is not a public health issue. Violent crime deals with why humans seek to harm other humans within society, which can entail the use of a variety of problems. If people are using cars in large numbers to run other people over, we would not say cars are a public health problem. Cars are harmless to the public in that sense. It is the people using them to commit violent crimes that are the issue, and how to solve that is a criminology and law enforcement issue, not a public health issue. Firearms are the same.

      Public health is when things can harm a person even when they do not want to harm anybody else or themselves, for example not wearing seat belts in cars, not knowing safe usage of a firearm, germs, chemicals, etc….

      • Kyle, you need to re-read my comments; carefully, a couple more times.

        I explicitly disavowed that guns, cutlery or clubs are a public health issue.

        I explained the limits of the criminal justice system to impact violent crime.

        I wrote: “There is ample reason to suspect that violent crime has a social, cultural and psychological/psychiatric origin.” Do you disagree with this sentence? Do you completely dismiss any possibility that violent crime has a social, cultural or psychological/psychiatric origin? If so, you should explain this, your (possible) viewpoint.

        If there is “ample reason to suspect . . . ” then there seems to be a rationale for construing violent crime to be a public health issue insofar as we should be interested in “curing” or “preventing” the antecedents to violent crime. Should we be successful in doing so, we could reduce the damage to public health caused by death and injury incident to violent crime.

  14. As bad as branding healthy unvaccinated kids a public health problem? Public health is one of the vehicles they use to steal your rights.

  15. Epidemiology has a purpose, when used properly and without bias. That said, epidemiology is notoriously weak, being highly prone to bias and manipulation by its authors. Be very wary of any epidemiological “study” being used to support the limitation of rights.

  16. Violent crime is on a steady increase and affects everyone. It is one factor that is influencing the decline of life expectancy throughout all society today. Think about it, at this current point in time, your son/daughter or grandchildren are not expected to live as long as you because of the risk of violent crime. This is the argument you make for them? People must be ignorant to think that it is not a public health problem. Anybody is at risk and it certainly can have negative affects on your health. Some of these comments are absolutely mindless trying to make characterizations of expunging our gun rights by recognizing the problem this way. Try relaxing your sphincter and maybe your head will come out. It is not always about your stupid little guns.

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