Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Welcome to the Gun Show

(My flabby gun)

After a few weeks of living in northwestern China, I thought I had gotten used to a lot of absurdity.  Like having lamb for breakfast, deer penis wine with lunch, and doctors who smoke as they examined patients.  Still, watching on the news, in a country of over a billion, the story of a man waving a knife on a street corner, felt absolutely absurd.  It took the police hours to subdue and disarm him.  This, I realized, was what it was like to live in a gun-less society. 

Here in the States, I live in a society where we can hunt, reenact historical scenes, and carry guns in self-defense.  The majority of the US, even gun owners, even NRA members, support mandatory waiting periods, registration, and other gun control regulations.  With so many editorials and statistics floating the interwebs this week, you’ve probably heard that American women account for 84% of all female firearm homicide victims in high income countries (but just under 1/3 of the population); that 6 states don’t have minimum age requirements to possess a handgun*; or that, as David Sedaris so famously wrote in the holiday classic, blind people can go hunting in Michigan and Texas.  You know our policy and enforcement failures.  So instead, let me tell you what public health (policy) is doing well:

(For a recap on why gun violence is a public health problem to begin with, start here.) 

Disarming Batterers:  A number of states actively deny individuals who have restraining orders against them from owning or buying firearms.  It’s a group that is hard for the NRA to rally around, and a 2003 study by Vigdor and Mercy suggests that the laws reduced intimate-partner homicides. 

Surveillance:  Did you know that more people die by suicide than homicides every year? The National Violent Death Reporting System, established in 2002 and run through the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, serves as a tool for pinpointing and observing trends that helps state and local workers frame and understand where and how violence occurs so they may better prevent it.    

Research in Practice:  These numbers I spit out don’t just stay as numbers.  They’re translated into training programs for counselors, pastors, and physicians to know how to talk about and reduce violence.  Research that evaluate policies help pinpoint and effective interventions so more resources could be directed toward the ones that work, like limiting the number of guns one can purchase per month, or disarming people who have had felony convictions*.

(Standing way too close to fireworks in Baltimore)

What can you do well?  Calling members of Congress pressures them to support gun control measures, educating yourself spreads best practices, and writing a big-a$$ check helps offset NRA contributions and funds worthy programs that reduce violence.

*From David Hemenway’s Private Guns, Public Health.  Again, no funding, just a good book.  

PS. I talk about DHem a lot, but folks at Hopkins, like Daniel Webster ("DWeb") are also doing great things on guns.


  1. Oh wow, David Hemenway's book "Private Guns, Public Health" is currently 'out of stock' on Amazon. Heartening to know some folks are indeed trying to self-educate, and make sense of this disaster through thoughtful research.

    Thanks, as always, for the great post, Joy!

  2. Whoa, thanks for letting me know. I didn't realize it was out of stock. I have a copy if you ever want to take a look...

  3. Wait, you can get the book directly from U of Michigan press! (