The issue with guns as a "public health issue"

AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File

For a while now, gun control advocates have been pushing for so-called gun violence to be treated as a public health issue.

To be fair, there are some positive ideas that have come from this approach, such as counseling for shooting victims so as to try and prevent retribution and stop the cycle of violence. I can get behind something like that because it ultimately prevents violent crime.


But many of the people who push this public health approach aren’t looking at the situation around guns as a whole. That’s pretty clear from this story:

The problem of rising gun violence can seem insurmountable, but Portland health professionals expressed hope during a roundtable discussion at Oregon Health and Science University Wednesday morning.

The talk between medical experts, law enforcement, and people with lived experience — whose lives were forever changed by a shooting or suicide — sought to frame the issue through a public health lens.

“This is not a dichotomous gun rights versus gun control issue,” said Dr. Kathleen Carlson, director of OHSU’s Gun Violence Prevention Research Center. “This gets us nowhere, and in fact we’ve lost ground, with increasing rates of gun injuries and deaths over the last couple decades. What we mean to say, most simply, is we’re using multilayered, multifaceted approaches to understanding the multiple causes of gun violence.”

The experts talked through the data points, the troubling trends, the solutions that are working and the additional steps that need to be taken.

“In the field of injury science, we often say injuries are not accidents. They’re patterned, which means that they’re predictable, which means that they’re preventable,” Carlson said. “Sometimes it feels overwhelming, but we’re trained here to take a scientific, strategic approach of overcoming things that seem insurmountable.”


So far, nothing obviously objectionable. Plenty of things to spark concern, but also plenty of things to take heart with, including the whole “understanding the multiple causes of gun violence” thing.

But there’s a problem with all of this, namely that these folks, as you might have noted, generally only see one side of the equation. People who were part of gangs and got shot see a given perspective, true, and emergency room doctors see a slightly different one.

Yet there are a lot of people who have a very different view of the role guns play who clearly aren’t included in these discussions.

After all, look at the potential solutions given:

Solutions proposed included safer storage for guns, separate from ammo; mental health holds, and protective orders, including the use of Oregon’s Red Flag Law; plus more education and funding for further research.

So they want people to store guns, presumably locked up, without any ammunition and they call that safer storage. (We’ve hit on most of the rest of this stuff in the past.)

Well, let’s understand that it can be…if you’re only worried about someone getting hold of the gun and trying to take their own life with it. Maybe it works if you’re worried about someone breaking into your home and trying to hurt you with your firearm.

But if you’re at all interested in self-defense–which is why most people are buying guns these days–then this is terrible advice.

If someone breaks into your home, you’re not going to have time to access your gun, then access the ammo, load the weapon, rack the slide if it’s a semi-auto, and then engage the intruder. By then, you’re probably going to be dead.


The people who come up with these suggestions may actually mean well. What they’re not understanding is that guns are used more often each year to prevent violent crime than to perpetrate it. They only see one side of things, the side where someone uses a gun to intentionally hurt themselves or someone else.

What they don’t see are the intruders who run away when a homeowner presents a firearm. They don’t see the mugger or rapist in full retreat because the young woman they targeted was carrying a gun. None of that pops up on their radar, so it’s easy for them to be oblivious to it.

Yet that fact makes it impossible to look at people talking “public health” seriously. How can they be authorities on the topic when they clearly don’t know what they don’t know?

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