It is now more than a quarter-century since Art Kellerman, Fred Rivara and other scholars published a seminal work on suicide risk and access to guns. This article not only brought public attention to gun risk, but was probably the single, most important event leading to the 1996 elimination of gun research funding by the CDC.
Just this week, another research effort linking guns to suicide has appeared, giving us an opportunity to compare research findings on the same issue over the last 25 years. And I’m going to give you my conclusion up front, which is that public health research on gun risk has created a medical consensus on how to deal with gun violence that moves us further away from where we should be.
The whole purpose of public health research is to identify a risk to community health, figure out the proper response to that risk, then give physicians the proper tools to (note the next word in caps) eliminate the risk. Sorry, but the Hippocratic Oath doesn’t mention reducing disease; it says: “I will prevent disease whenever I can.”
The authors of this new paper, obviously cognizant of the role of medicine in the prevention of disease, inject that issue into their work with the following conclusion: “In the overall model, 6% to 32% of deaths were estimated to be preventable depending on the probability of motivating safer storage.”
Reducing a threat to health by 6 percent isn’t prevention. And worse, even this minimal outcome, which is at best an ‘estimate,’ is dependent on whether the at-risk population responds positively to the ‘probability’ of ‘motivating’ a certain public-health strategy known as ‘safe storage.’
The ‘safe storage’ strategy has become the deus ex machina for gun control embraced by virtually every gun-control initiative both within and without the medical field. The strategy has never (read: never) been tested in anything other than a variety of statistical manipulations of relevant (but not definitive) data. Not one researcher has ever created a control group versus a comparison group and then analyzed outcomes between the two groups. The definition of ‘safe storage’ doesn’t even cover how the term is utilized in relevant legal statutes and texts.
I happen to live in the state – Massachusetts – which has the strictest safe-storage law of all 50 states. In my state, a gun owner can be charged with a felony even if a gun is simply left unlocked or not locked away in the home. But MA also recognizes that a gun is safely stored if the qualified owner can reach out and touch the gun. So if I am sitting in my living room watching TV and cleaning one of my guns at the same time, the gun is safely stored.
I have yet to see a single public health study advocating safe storage which asks respondents to define safe storage as locked, locked away or sitting next to the gun’s owner when he’s awake or asleep. Which means that these studies, like the one just published, are based on a primary variable (type of storage behavior) which has no connection to reality at all.
This is why I said above that public health gun research has moved us further, rather than closer to figuring out what to do about a threat to public health that results in at least 125,000 deaths and injuries every year. Because if you go back to the Kellerman-Rivara research which found gun owners to be at higher risk for suicide, their finding wasn’t based on whether or not guns were safely stored.
Why has the public health field decided that only guns that aren’t safely stored represent a risk to health? Because they actually believe that medical counseling on gun violence must respect our Constitutional ‘right’ to own a gun.
Since when did the Hippocratic Oath require physicians to determine health risk based on whether some law gives individuals free license to harm themselves or others? Which is what the 2nd Amendment is really all about, whether the medical community and their public health research friends want to acknowledge it or not.