October 4, 2015

A PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE:

A New Way to Tackle Gun Deaths (Nicholas Kristof, 10/03/15, NY Times)

More than 60 percent of gun deaths are suicides, and most of the rest are homicides. Gun enthusiasts scoff at including suicides, saying that without guns people would kill themselves by other means. In many cases, though, that's not true.

In Great Britain, people used to kill themselves by putting their heads in the oven and asphyxiating themselves with coal gas. This accounted for almost half of British suicides in the late 1950s, but Britain then began switching from coal gas to natural gas, which is much less lethal. Sticking one's head in the oven was no longer a reliable way to kill oneself -- and there was surprisingly little substitution of other methods. Suicide rates dropped, and they stayed at a lower level.

The British didn't ban ovens, but they made them safer. We need to do the same with guns.

When I tweeted about the need to address gun violence after college shooting in the Roseburg, Ore., a man named Bob pushed back. "Check out car accident deaths," he tweeted sarcastically. "Guess we should ban cars."

Actually, cars exemplify the public health approach we need to apply to guns. We don't ban cars, but we do require driver's licenses, seatbelts, airbags, padded dashboards, safety glass and collapsible steering columns. And we've reduced the auto fatality rate by 95 percent.

One problem is that the gun lobby has largely blocked research on making guns safer. Between 1973 and 2012, the National Institutes of Health awarded 89 grants for the study of rabies and 212 for cholera -- and only three for firearms injuries.

Daniel Webster, a public health expert at Johns Hopkins University, notes that in 1999, the government listed the gun stores that had sold the most weapons later linked to crimes. The gun store at the top of the list was so embarrassed that it voluntarily took measures to reduce its use by criminals -- and the rate at which new guns from the store were diverted to crime dropped 77 percent.

But in 2003, Congress barred the government from publishing such information.

Posted by at October 4, 2015 7:31 AM
  

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