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Gun violence, public health and the missing piece

danps's picture

One of the emerging ideas is to treat gun violence as a public health issue much like we have with tobacco. Highlight the grisly costs of our gun worship, educate the public on the most hazardous aspects of the issue, and do everything we can to get people to think about it.

These suggestions are missing an absolutely crucial component, though: stigma. The public health campaign against smoking pushed information on the hazards of smoking into the public arena, but it also pushed back against the activity itself. Advertising for it was increasingly restricted, the glamorization of it by Hollywood was denounced, the areas where it was permitted narrowed, and in general the unmistakable message was: this is bad; don't do it.

That's what we need to do with firearms, because our gun culture has glamorized them for far too long. Any discussion of guns as a cultural marker usually begins as though we were still a late 18th century agrarian land recently liberated from a royal tyrant. That is not the world we live in, to put it mildly. The vast arsenals and enormous firepower of assault weapons bears no resemblance to the "to arms, men! Redcoats at the town square!" imagery of a musket-carrying citizen soldier often invoked when gun legislation is contemplated.

To say that these mass killings are unrepresentative of the gun owning public is as persuasive as the "few bad apples" argument after Abu Ghraib. In both cases they are produced by a systemic failure that goes all the way up the line. They are not freak aberrations, but the inevitable results of a terribly broken system.

It's time to stop defending the violent gun culture or hedging arguments. It's possible that there is some magical country where all the guns are kept safe, are never purchased illegally, and are always used for recreational purposes or self defense. We do not live in that country. We live in a country where 31,347 people were killed by guns in 2009 (the last year official numbers are available), where our thinking about firearms is based on mythology and not reality, and where the gun lobby and spineless officials block even the mildest reforms.

If we really are going to try to change all that with a public health campaign, stigmatizing gun ownership needs to be a part of it. And guess what? No political roadmap is needed. It can be done for handguns in urban areas and for semiautomatic weapons outside them. It's something anyone can do, anywhere. Those who defend the status quo have blood on their hands, and we should say so plainly when the issue comes up. (For those concerned about telling people mean things see here.)

In some alternate reality maybe there's an America where gun policy does not come at such an unconscionably murderous price. That's not America circa 2012, though. When faced with the enormous damage of tobacco use, anti-smoking advocates didn't mince words. They didn't say, hey - a little smoking is probably fine; you probably won't get lung cancer if you just have a couple a day. Faced with a public health catastrophe, they took an unambiguous stance. It's time we did the same.

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mtngun's picture
Submitted by mtngun on

You present no facts to back up your argument.

Danps said "We live in a country where 31,347 people were killed by guns in 2009"

That is the total number of firearm related deaths, including suicides and possibly even people shot by police.    Suicide is not a gun problem -- people who wish to commit suicide can find a way, as witnessed by  the high male suicide rate in Japan and S. Korea despite it being impossible to own a gun there.

You are 3 times as likely to be killed in a car accident as murdered by a gun.

You are 3 times to be killed by accidental poisoning (including prescription meds) as murdered by a gun.

You are twice as likely to be killed by the effects of alcohol as murdered by a gun.

Finally, you are twice as likely to die in a fall as be murdered by a gun.

Yet Danps is silent on vehicle accidents, poisoning, alcohol, and falls.    It makes one wonder if Danps (and the other rabid anti-gunners) have a fetish about guns.   Maybe an issue with phallic symbols ?

Look, there is no correlation between gun ownership or gun laws and murder rates.     Instead, murder rates correlate to culture, racial tension, economic problems, and drug prohibition.

You could easily make a big dent in the murder rate by eliminating poverty, reducing economic inequality, and decriminalizing drugs.    In fact, that might be something that a progressive would do !     

On the stategy side, how do you propose forming a political coalition of the 99%, to unite on economic issues and perhaps even on the issue of foreign militarism, if you insist on having a civil war among the 99% on social issues.     Let me tell you, Danps, the 1% love it when the 99% fight among themselves.   It allows the 1% to remain in control.

Submitted by cg.eye on

... because it's so close to "LOOK! OVER THERE! SARAH PALIN!" it's not funny. It's not funny this week, if it ever was.

Tied together with the NRA's usual, "This is not the time to politicize this tragedy", it's a lovely one-two punch from the usual suspects, about reverse Overtoning about  we should be sad about, and be concerned with (you're not progressive enough, just dealing with gun control...  a topic which puts most in favor of it, literally, into the pinko-commie STALIN TOOK ALL THE GUNS basket).

And, somehow, if we're obedient progressives and get diverted yet again away from discussions of gun control into conversations about poverty (which the free distribution of guns to gangs and a militarized police, in response, make worse) and alcohol (guess which drug makes mass murder that much easier?), the conversation never, ever, rolls around to the topic we want to discuss, right now: The control of Gun Violence and the breaking of the gun lobby as definitively as the tobacco lobby was diminished.

That is, until the next group of children, mothers, wives and students get killed.

Diversionary tactics aren't going to work, this time. Sorry.