September 23, 2011

Is Gun Violence an Epidemic?

Gun crime as an epidemic is in the news again. We’ve heard gun crime being described as a disease before. We’ve heard it described as an epidemic. Such heated hyperbole often precedes demands for more sacrifice in the political practice of management by crisis.

But if we are to think in terms of distribution or epidemiologic parameters, we have to remember one thing: epidemiology requires a presumption of acting in the best interests of the community. As a specialty of a larger public health knowledge and practice, there must be the presumption of eradicating the problem. Public servants are hired to share the values of the community, not operate against them for political purposes and call it public service.

Hippocrates gets the credit for starting the study of disease distribution, and others have made substantial contributions in the lifetimes since, describing the mission as one of studying patterns of health, treatment efficacies and improving outcomes. It is the idea of affecting outcomes that interests us.

When it comes to naming gun violence as a stand alone epidemic, one identifies and blames guns, but then works counter to established public policy and interest by writing laws which grow the problem and begin to affect outcomes adversely. Put another way, crime is not stopped by gun control, it is enhanced. This is governance by crisis, not by eradicating crisis.

Who knew? 90 million gun owners knew. And now, tens of millions more are getting the sense that this country is going in the wrong direction. This is one such example of that, this governance by crisis formula.

Gun crime is not an epidemic, Crime is an epidemic. When we talk about washing our hands, we are talking about fighting a transmission mode of disease. When we talk about Citizen CPR, we are talking about saving lives against premature death there, too. When we talk about the armed citizen, we are talking about fighting violence where it is fought best, namely at the scene of the crime. You cannot fight crime when you go through the motions of doing everything but the armed citizen.

Every single violent act is its own Ground Zero for statistical and practical public health purposes, or epidemiological purposes. It is fought best by the first line of defense, and that is the target, not officials. Disease is fought by medical people who wash their hands, who use checklists and who see where the chain of nosocomial (hospital borne) infections can be broken. They are present and able to act in influencing outcomes of problems where they are found.

The armed citizen can break the chain of violence in communities similarly, because they, too, are present. Whether it is individual acts of violence, stopping or apprehending repeat offenders, or generally making it known that the people will no longer tolerate victimization by thugs and the system, the presence and involvement of the target of crime can break the chain.

Criminal violence, after identifying ‘gun violence’ as an epidemic, is not fought best by disarming the citizen any more than fighting a grease fire is done best by outlawing fire extinguishers and relying entirely on the Fire Department. Saving lives is not done best by criminalizing the administration of CPR, letting the patient go unaided and relying entirely on EMS. Fighting any disease is not done best by withholding the medicine which can treat or contain the disease.

Gun laws are the equivalent of blocking medicines to treat disease, of frustrating CPR in the absence of EMS, and the equivalent of outlawing your own fire extinguishers to snuff out small fires in the home or automobile engine.

Can you see the anti-logic? Can you see the social engineering? Can you see the frustration of personal independence and freedom to act in mitigating the problem?

The best way to handle so-called gun crime is to see it as a larger picture of community loss to crime in general, such as beatings and robberies, rapes, abductions and knifings. To single out ‘gun violence’ is to be disingenuous. To write more gun laws is to ignore the rest of a community’s violence and to block the one treatment which will work best at the scene of the incident: citizen authority such that the law is present when officials cannot be.

Finally, consulting police to eradicate guns may seem logical, but this is only bureaucrats consulting other bureaucrats. The community is missing a bet. The community needs to consult gun owners who much more closely share the interests of the community, people who have to live with the outcomes of political decisions.

Management of crisis is the answer after years of management by crisis. Gun laws do not do this, and only aggravate the disease… er, problem. If you’re going to think of ‘gun violence’ as an epidemic, then you have to think of the best medicine for the treatment without hurting the patient in the process. Anything less is no accident of good intentions.

In 2012, America needs to choose candidates who share the values of the people they plan to serve, and that means respecting the authority of the electorate. Nothing will say respect better than the repeal of gun laws first.

John Longenecker has articulated a corollary between the armed citizen and the CPR trained citizen in terms of moral purpose, goodness, personal independence, and public interest. His monograph is The CPR Corollary, available electronically as an e-book.

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