Every once in a while, I find myself unable to understand why some of my friends in the public health research community keep doing the same gun research over and over again. The latest example comes from two very distinguished researchers, Anthony Braga and Philip Cook, who spent a good part of last year analyzing gun injuries in Boston which the cops believed were all associated with crimes. After examining all the police reports, as well as coroner reports (for the injuries which turned out to be fatal) covering 592 shootings between 2010 and 2014, the researchers reached an astonishing conclusion: the more powerful the caliber involved in the attack, the better chance that the victim would wind up dead.
To their credit, Braga and Cook at least admit that they aren’t exactly tilling new ground. The notes cite a number of other studies which say the same thing, beginning with Zimring’s classic study published in 1972. So how is it that 45 years later, Braga and Cook come up with the same results that Zimring previously published, but nevertheless, feel the necessity to say the same thing again? Because over the years since Zimring’s work first appeared, public health gun research is increasingly designed to substantiate the development and/or implementation of more gun regulations, which means that most public health gun studies end up suggesting, supporting or endorsing various gun-control laws.
The reason we suffer from an inordinate amount of gun violence, is because our regulatory system is set up to focus primarily on the behavior of people who own and use guns, rather than on the design and lethality of guns themselves. And what has happened in the nearly 50 years since Zimring first published his seminal article, is that the gun industry has introduced technologies which allow them to manufacture and sell highly-concealable guns which also happen to be extremely lethal because the alloys and polymers now used to make guns can withstand much higher pressures from much more powerful shells.
Guns like the Glock Model 43 or the Sig Model 938 didn’t exist when Zimring did his research. These guns fire a standard, military round – 9mm – but are no bigger and weigh little more than a droid. The whole point of the gun industry is to make consumers feel that carrying a tiny, but extremely lethal gun will not only protect them from all sorts of bad things, but can be stuck into their pocket and carried around like any other consumer item – no fuss, no mess, no bother at all.
When Zimring conducted his 1972 study, most of the attacks involved .22-caliber guns, with some .32 and .38 calibers, but nowhere did he find many crime guns chambered for 9mm, 40 S&W (which wasn’t even invented in 1972) or 45acp. These are now standard street calibers, and the only reason that .22LR ammunition sells as much as it does is because: a) it’s cheap, and, b) it’s also used in rifles for target shooting and sport.
What conclusion did Braga and Cook come up with once they learned that highly-lethal handgun calibers are now ‘standard issue’ in the street? According to them, their research “suggests that effective regulation of firearms could reduce the homicide rate.” And what kind of regulation are they talking about? Regulating what kind of guns can be made and sold, because “simply replacing larger-caliber guns with small caliber guns with no change in location or number of wounds would have reduced the gun homicide rate by 39.5%.” To which Braga and Cook add one more remarkable line: “It is plausible that larger reductions would be associated with replacing all types of guns with knives or clubs.”
With all due respect to my friends Braga and Cook, I get the distinct impression that this entire article was written tongue in cheek. I mean, are we reduced to talking about effective gun regulations based on requiring the substitution of knives and clubs? Maybe so.