By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters
A trope that gets revisited from time to time is the idea of studying gun violence and gun deaths as being a “public health issue.”
The subtext, of course, is that Democrats want to get the CDC to recommend strict gun control measures so they can enact them. “Here!” they’ll say “this what the nerds at the CDC said, and they’re smarterer than everyone else!”
Of course, academic whitewashing is an old trick; various groups have been using “scientific studies” to launder their image for decades. Big Tobacco has been doing it for more than 50 years, the coal industry has done it, so has Big Oil, and so on.
President-elect Joe Biden is shilling the “public health” aspect of gun violence as we speak, so this is a narrative that we can expect to be hearing for some time to come.
So, let us consider the question, then. Is gun violence and therefore gun deaths a public health issue? Or is it all just a canard?
On balance, yes it is – but not for the reasons that Joe Biden or anyone in his administration will tell you. The gun control version of the “public health” aspect of gun violence and deaths by gunshot is full of half-truths, lies by omission and gross oversimplification of complex problems.
So how are gun violence and therefore gun deaths a public health issue?
Buckle up, because we’re about to go a bit deeper than normal.
Let us begin by considering the problem of violent crime, because gun violence in and of itself is merely violent crime carried out with a gun.
An armed robbery is an armed robbery; just because it’s done with a gun instead of a knife or a crowbar is not hugely material. Not that it doesn’t matter, but more that a gun is merely a tool and other tools are available to the criminal who wants to carry out crimes.
What causes violent crime to happen? Not just individual instances, but what are the root causes that make a society more prone to violence than others?
So far, the available evidence and study indicates that there is no one cause but instead a number of contributing factors that can make violence more prevalent in a particular society or area, as well as certain factors that can make an individual more prone to violence.
The greatest hits? Poverty and/or income inequality, population density, drug use/abuse both at the micro (individual) and macro (neighborhood/city/region) level, climate, mental illness, and some other contributing factors we’ll cover shortly.
The correlation between poverty/income inequality (as well as drug abuse) and violent crime is not new; that’s been a known quantity for so long that it’s taken as granted. Drug and alcohol abuse also tends to correlate to poverty as well.
Granted, the latter link is complex; some people become impoverished because of drug and alcohol abuse and some people abuse drugs and alcohol because they’re impoverished.
And where do most impoverished people live? Many below the poverty line live in rural areas, this is true, but the greatest concentration of poverty is in the inner cities and poorer suburbs which have a high population density.
And what does this have to do with guns and stuff?
Gun violence, being violent crime, is a disease of the impoverished; while it happens from time to time, it happens less often in areas with lower population densities or with more favorable socioeconomic conditions.
Higher population densities lead to higher stress levels regardless of income level; add the additional stressors of poverty and you have a recipe for much worse things than an entitled honkie hausfrau screaming at some poor barista in Starbucks for using 2 percent instead of skim in her latte.
We can take it as granted, then, that a far more effective treatment for gun violence would not actually be to make guns harder to purchase legally, but instead to put more resources into reducing poverty.
As it happens, poverty is also a disease vector. Infectious disease spreads more rapidly in poor areas. During this COVID-19 pandemic, it was reported early that low-income communities were the hardest hit, both in terms of community spread and infection but also in income loss. It has also disproportionately affected persons of color.
A person could, therefore, take it that violence – including gun violence – could be counted among the diseases of poverty and – therefore – is a public health issue.
As far as other contributing factors, there’s some evidence of genetic contributors.
For instance, the MAO-5 and CDH-13 genes, which lead to lower levels of monoamine oxidase and 5-HIAA (hydroxyindoleacetic acid), a metabolite (by-product of an absorbed substance) of serotonin, are both more heavily represented among violent criminals.
Certain classes of mental illness are more likely to result in violent activities, but this is rarer than one might think at first blush. Most people who suffer from mental illness are not actually violent, however this changes when mental illness is combined with drug and alcohol abuse.
Also, not to kick a dead horse, but take a guess as to what also tends to correlate with a higher rate of mental illness and/or psychiatric disorders? 10 points to Gryffindor if you guessed poverty.
But what about other factors that may influence violent crime?
There is some evidence of geographical and environmental factors that influence violent crime.
For instance, there’s a known correlation between crime and temperature; hotter temperatures correlate with higher crime rates as does proximity to the equator.
There may also be other environmental influences on criminal behavior. For instance, a growing body of evidence indicates that lead exposure especially among children contributes to criminal behavior; it’s therefore also possible that the rise and fall of violent crime rates in the US over the mid-20th century was linked to lead in gasoline.
When lead was removed, the crime rate started to fall. Of course, there are some other factors that likely influenced the drop in crime in the 1990s. Some probably were related to law enforcement, and some were somewhat more controversial, such as the hypothesis that legalized abortion lead to a reduction in violent crime.
Then you have the issue of suicide.
While Americans are not the most suicide-prone in the world, the US does have a slightly higher rate of suicide than many other developed nations.
The US is about 20th on the list of suicide rate by country. Of other developed nations, South Korea, Japan and Belgium have a higher suicide rate as do much of the former Soviet bloc countries. As is well-known, roughly two-thirds of all gun deaths in the US are suicides.
Is this to say suicide is not a problem? No. This is to say that guns are merely the vehicle for it, and Americans have a higher rate of suicide than other nations with a per capita GDP higher than $25,000 per year.
So, to bring this home. Is gun violence a public health issue? Yes, but not for the reasons that gun control activists think.
Gun crime, as a form of violent crime, is one of the diseases of poverty; reduce that and you’ll reduce the number of gun crimes. Therefore, so are most gun deaths.
Whilst major news media outlets focus on high-profile mass shootings, the vast number of shooting deaths by volume are murders in the inner cities. This isn’t to minimize the horror of events such as Las Vegas in 2017, Newtown in 2012 and Orlando in 2016, but instead to say that thousands of people die by the gun per year in anonymity in the inner cities.
These people are unremembered by gun control advocates and ignored by opportunistic seekers of elected office. If it is true that Republicans don’t care about poor people, we can take it as granted that Democrats don’t either, at least in this aspect.
Is making it harder to buy an AR-15, or making pistol braces illegal going to do anything about any of it? Not a damn thing, at all.
It is also the case that far more people need help with mental illness. Stress, depression and so on are not weaknesses or defects; it is okay to not be okay.
Instead of stigmatizing people who need help, we should encourage them to seek it and to find out what will help make them well, or to manage their conditions.
If we want to reduce the suicide rate, we – as a society – must demand that more people feel free to and are able to access resources to address and treat mental illness and distress.
Gun violence and gun deaths in America, outside of accidents, are largely a product of poverty, as well as a lack of critical infrastructure in the medical community and in our culture to address mental health issues and get people the help they need.
Those are absolutely, without question or shadow of doubt, public health issues. But those aren’t the public health issues that Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Maxine Waters – and, be in no doubt – Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, or Donald Trump are concerned about.
So unless President-elect Joe Biden also starts mentioning that violence is a product of the environments people are in, and those environments are what need to change, it’s a total canard. And worse still, barely even a half-measure at addressing the actual problem.
Folks, it’s not that they’re asleep at the wheel. They’re fighting over which side of the median to run us all into.
Sam Hoober is a Contributing Editor to AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.