I have written several times about guns and gun control. I live in Bessemer, AL, on what was once described by a local television station at "the most dangerous street in the state." Here are some thoughts from that period in 2007, after a spate of murders occurred just blocks from here.
I want to present a suggestion that we change the dialogue around gun violence. I wrote just the other day following the Aurora mass murders about some changes that I believe would benefit society. But just talking about these changes still leads to the same arguments about 2nd amendment rights and such.
Let's look at this from a public health standpoint. I am not presenting results of research or offering interventions, rather I want to generate some questions and change the dialogue.
Let's treat gun violence like the pubic health issue that it is. What we want to do is change people's behavior.
But first let's look at how society has handled another public health issue: youth smoking and smoking in general; and how we changed people's behavior regarding that issue.
Let’s do a simple review.
In 1965 about 45% of Americans smoked, and kids could go into stores and buy their parents cigarettes (and buy for themselves out of machines or from stores as well). My father often sent me into Shelby County where cigarette taxes were lower to the Smoke Shop to by his cigarettes. My friends and I would go to movie theaters and buy cigarettes out of the machines in the lobby. I saw the Marlboro man and wanted to be like him (and be with him, but that is a different story).
Picture credit: Pitch.com
Research proved the dangers of smoking and over the years efforts were undertaken to counter the high number of young people that took up the habit.
Some of the efforts included a ban on minors buying tobacco, restrictions on advertizing, public service announcements regarding smoking dangers, movies shown in health classes showing damaged lungs and sick people, warnings on cigarette packs, even more graphic public service announcements showing tracheotomies and such, absence of smoking in movies and on television, and more recently, smoking bans in public places.
Results; smoking is currently practiced by around 20% of adults, and less young people are smoking (leading to less adults smoking).
Now, think about murders.
The homicide rate in the United States is basically the same as it was in the 1960’s: 5.1/100,000 in 1960 and 5.0/100,000 in 2009 (you see different statistics depending on how the data are categorized. The number is not really important here; this is not the beginning point of a study).
There is a perception that violent crime is rising, but the reality is that now violent crime is reported, and sensationalized, to such an extent that we think it is more common than it is. Micheal Moore's movie Bowling for Columbine points that out (linking news and entertainment shows such as COPS as guilty in over reporting crime and pointing toward dark people as the criminals).
Regardless, if we treated it as a public health issue we might come up with a plan to reduce it.
Let’s just do what we learned could work with regards to smoking, another public health issue.
Lets reduce access (like they did with cigarettes), reduce advertising (like they did with cigarettes), create public service announcements (like they did with cigarettes), show movies in middle school and highs school of the dangers of gun ownership (like they did with cigarettes), put warnings on ammunition (like they did with cigarettes), create graphic public service announcements with pictures of dead people shot up (like they did with cigarettes), reduce gun violence in movies and tv and video games (like they did with cigarettes), and ban guns in public places (like they are doing with cigarettes).
Picture credit: London Metropolitan University
Use this as a starting point. Set some objectives, develop interventions (plans) to reach those objectives.
Someone in public health needs to take this and run with it.
Within a few years we will begin to see the gun murder rate drop, and within 40 years we would see a significant drop.
We know that nothing is going to cause an immediate drop in gun violence. And we realize that certainly, some bad people would still obtain guns and use them in spite of laws and restrictions, just as young people continue to get cigarettes. But we need to look at trends and statistics and projections and start somewhere.
The current dialogue and discussion is getting us nowhere. Take it out of the political arena and put it in the public health arena. Of course, the CDC has some information about gun violence and statistics. But they are weak on developing and implementing a plan to significantly reduce deaths.
This is unscientific, and done with very little research. It is just an idea I had and wanted to share.