Down in Brazos, Texas, two ER doctors made local headlines by donating a pair of Mossberg shotguns to the local County Constable office. The guns were donated in memory of Constable Brian Bachmann, a 20-year law enforcement veteran, who was killed while attempting to serve an eviction notice onan enraged individual, the latter after shooting Bachmann then shot and killed a civilian, and wounded two other police officers before being killed himself.
What caught my eye about this story was the fact that it highlighted the relationship between law enforcement and medicine when we think about violence perpetrated with guns. After all, if we use a phrase like ‘gun violence’ to cover every incident in which someone suffers an injury from a gun, then three-quarters of all violence involving guns also happen to be crimes. In 2013, hospitals treated roughly 60,000 people who were victims of shootings and treated 135,000 victims of stabbings and other serious assaults. But the resources required to deal with gun assaults is probably ten times higher than what’s needed to deal with stabbings or cuts. And every one of these costly gun crimes also creates significant costs and resource use for the cops.
The bottom line is that physicians and police are the two groups which must respond to every, single act of violence committed with a gun. That being the case, how come we have so little interaction between law enforcement and medical communities when it comes to figuring out how to deal with guns? Back in 2013, three of the leading public health gun researchers published a truly seminal article calling for more engagement between physicians and public health researchers to figure out how to respond to the risks posed by guns. But shouldn’t this dyad actually be a triad by adding criminology to the mix? Because if, as the public health authors propose, people buy and carry guns out of fear, don’t we need to know what makes some people then use these guns to commit crimes?
I think the absence of criminology from the public health – medical gun conversation has only served to make it easier for the NRA and other gun promoters to advance the stupid notion that gun ownership is a prima facie way of dealing with crime based on the equally-stupid notion that every illegal gun use can and should be responded to by simply taking the guns away from the ‘bad guys’ and locking them up for long periods of time. The fact that public health research indicates that guns first appear on the street in the hands of young teens, many of whom might still be guided into non-criminal pursuits given the proper social and therapeutic interventions, is a response to gun violence that the NRA and its cohorts simply ignore.
The NRA reminds its membership every day that being pro-cop and pro-gun are one and the same. But their relationship to the law enforcement community is ambivalent at best. For every Western (and some Eastern) sheriff who says he won’t enforce expanded background checks or other gun controls, there’s another police official arguing against laws to weaken CCW or allow college students to walk around armed. Lots of cops are gun guys, and the average cop will tell you, and he’s right, that law-abiding gun owners are never a problem when it comes to violence caused by guns. But these same cops also know that most, if not all the guns they face in the street were stolen from a law-abiding gun owner who forgot to lock his guns away.
Take a look at gun industry promotions and you’ll notice that the term ‘gun violence’ is never used. In fact, the standard mantra among pro-gun criminologists is that guns actually reduce violence because the ‘good guys’ are carrying so many of them around. The real challenge for public health researchers is not disproving this cynical and self-serving nonsense one more time. It’s making common cause with all the stakeholders who want to advance sensible solutions for the problem of guns.