Why Gun Violence As Public Health Issue Is So Problematic

AP Photo/Wilson Ring

Violent crime is surging all around us. Just about every city in the country is feeling it. Yet there are some who say our approach is wrong, that we should view violent crime–gun violence, in particular–as a public health issue. They figure that if we do, we can finally bring the right resources to bear on the problem.

Yet many of us, myself included, take issue with that approach. It’s not that we think violent crime is a good thing, but it’s because of stuff like this:

What can the criminal justice system learn from the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has begun to relaxed health guidelines. In fact, some states have “fully reopened.”

Even as President Joe Biden has acknowledged that his July 4 goal of vaccinating 70 percent of Americans will fall short, many other states are planning for a return to normalcy.

Will policymakers make the same mistake dealing with violence as their predecessors had with pandemic disease—prematurely abandoning what works?

In 2019, crime rates were at historic lows. Then came the call to “defund the police; empty the jails; abolish the death penalty; and generally be less punitive.”

The bigger concern is not treating gun violence in this country as a public health crisis and doing the necessary research to find out what works and what doesn’t.

Megan L. Ranney, MD MPH, an emergency physician and Associate Dean of Strategy and Innovation at the Brown University School of Public Health wrote in TIME this spring: “We must meet this challenge [gun violence] by approaching firearm injury as a public health epidemic, rather than a debate about gun rights or control.”

And that’s why it will always be a problematic idea.

Look, I have no issue with trying to direct resources at the causes of violence. I’ve advocated for that for years now. I’m in favor of it and would support any attempt to look at such causes.

But when you try to say that so-called gun violence is a public health issue and somehow arguments about rights no longer matter, then you’ve crossed a line. Rights always matter.

A perfectly authoritarian society can be a very peaceful one, but is that the life anyone really wants to live? I sure as hell don’t. I prefer the tumultuous waters of liberty to the smooth sailing of tyranny.

Rights matter.

While I’m sure Dr. Ranney may mean well, her comments suggest that she has decided that if something is a public health crisis, then there’s nothing at all that can’t be declared a public health issue and thus abrogate the rights of people.

“Poverty is a public health issue. We need to take half of every American’s stuff so we can give it to people who don’t work.”

“Lack of medical insurance is a public health crisis. All doctors will now work for free.”

Yeah, those are a little extreme, but can you not see this kind of thing happening? Of course it will. Like so many other tyrannical notions, it starts with guns.

Understand, I feel awful for every victim of “gun” violence. I hate it for them and I understand how the victims’ loved ones feel. But treating it as a public health issue doesn’t solve problems. It creates all new ones.