Monday, June 20, 2016


When it comes to firearm injuries and death, there are varying and intense opinions among Americans. We hear a lot of argumentation about "mental health – gun show exception – deeper background checks – punishing straw purchasers and limiting magazine size."

Whenever there is a shocking mass shooting, one side suggests some gun restrictions any other side carefully explains how that would not have stopped this particular shooting.

Let's put all that aside for the moment and see if we can find something upon which nearly everyone can agree.

Right now it is against the law of the United States of America for the CDC or the NIH, while using any government funds, to study the public health implications of firearms.

In 2014 (Nothing magic about 2014, it's just the most recent year I can get what I find to be reasonably complete raw data) there were approximately 52,000 incidents involving a firearm in which someone was hurt or killed. Just about 13,000 of those resulted in deaths. As nearly as one can tell from the data, people of all ages were implicated, firearms of all stripes were implicated, suicides were included and, of course, accidental discharges were included.

Can we all agree that, if there were a new, foreign, virus abroad in the land killing 13,000 Americans and injuring another nearly 40,000, our public health professionals would be studying it?

So right now we have a Congress that is considering gun safety measures with no benefit of cross-tabulated data because Congress, itself, has outlawed our best public health statisticians from creating such data.

Wouldn't it be better, smarter and a sensible use of our resources to let our public health professionals tell us, just for example, what is the population base most likely to be involved in a gun homicide? What is the length of ownership of the weapon and gun homicide? How many gun homicides are committed with a weapon that was straw purchased?   how many gun homicides are committed with gun show purchased weapons? How many weapons used in deadly or great bodily harm attacks are actually purchased at gun shows using the dreaded "gun show exception…"? How many of those would the purchaser have qualified anyhow?  How many of the homicides are actually a lawful gun owner deploying his weapon to prevent a felony or other murder?

Does anybody actually think that by not studying how, when why and by whom fatal and catastrophic shots are fired that we might be able to better craft sensible, constitutional legislation and subordinate regulations that actually respond to the problem is a public health problem?  Do we really believe that we should make our decisions on the basis of  slogans, memes and chants?

I think it was Socrates, later co-opted by Einstein who said" a question well asked is half answered."

Because of our lack of penetrating study on this rather obvious public health issue, we are not only failing to ask the question well but maybe attempting to answer all the wrong questions.

We have good scientists, really big, really fast computers and an abundant sample size. Deep study is slowing the increase of cervical cancer, diabetes and especially macular degeneration. Statistical applications have forever changed the way wars are fought and baseball games are played. There is simply no valid argument against applying the same rigor to the study of firearm injuries that we do to determining whether we should trade for this relief pitcher or that second baseman.

Knowledge is power. Can we all agree that it can't hurt anything and might actually help if we study this problem like we study other public health problems? That takes one clean, decent vote from our Congress, takes no one's guns away and limits no one's existing rights

Surely we can all agree that the anti-intellectual approach to this has long since outlived its usefulness.  Mind you, I'm a gun guy and I see absolutely no problem letting real scientists deal with real truths and come up with real cross-tabs.


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