There’s a crackpot group of physicians out there who call themselves Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, and every once in a while some pro-gun media outlet gives them some space to promote the idea that guns do not constitute a health risk and, in fact, that guns keep us healthy and safe. Lately their pronouncements have come from an upstate, New York psychiatrist, Robert Young, who was given some space on the gun blog The Truth About Guns to deliver a series of utterly false and misleading statements about the medical impact of gun violence.
Why were his statements false and misleading? Because Young doesn’t believe there’s something called gun violence. According to him, the term was invented by anti-gun advocates to make people believe that guns are somehow the cause of gun violence, when in fact guns are what keep us safe from violence. Dr. Young goes notes that “most academic physicians follow the ossified, over 20-year-old anti-gun position of their leadership that ‘gun violence is a public health issue.’” He then goes on to score a recent Washington Post op-ed piece in which the contributor, another physician, ignored the problems of poverty, domestic violence and childhood exposure to bloodshed as the real reasons behind violence, none having anything to do with guns.
Gun violence wasn’t ‘invented’ by anti-gun advocates; it was listed as a sub-category of violence in the very first assessment of public health issues when the CDC created the first such list in 1980, a list which included such other controversial public health risks as smoking, obesity, and excessive alcohol consumption. Now either Young knows this or he doesn’t. If he knows it, then he’s a liar. If he doesn’t, he’s a charlatan and a fool. Either way, his attempt to create the false impression that patterns of violence in this country can be fully understood without reference to the availability of guns is nothing more than the same old NRA script that has been floating around for the past twenty years.
The idea that guns are a health risk didn’t come out of thin air. It resulted from two decades of research that found a clear increase in homicides, suicides and gun morbidities in the populations that had access to guns. This research also found that the United States did not have higher levels of violence than other advanced, post-industrial countries, but we did have a much higher rate of mortality, again because of access to guns. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that these studies provide the basis for demanding that we pack up all the guns in America and dump them out at sea. There are certainly anti-gun zealots who would like this to happen, but that group doesn’t include me. What I am saying is, like it or not, gun violence is an issue of public concern and I would hope the debate would turn not on half-cocked rantings of Dr. Young, but on data and verifiable facts.
The real problem, according to Dr. Young, is that physicians “don’t often address the tragic crime epidemic among undisciplined teens and young adults competing for gang and drug turf and money.” The medical community works tirelessly and endlessly to address medical issues arising from the ravages of inner-city life, but the truth is that perhaps three-quarters of all fatal gun injuries result from social circumstances that may have little to do with crime. This is true of virtually all suicides, nearly all unintentional shootings, most if not nearly all IPV fatalities and a goodly number of so-called ‘street’ shootings, which turn out to be arguments between relatives, friends, or just an occasional babysitter who plops the kid down a flight of stairs.
Shameless NRA sycophants like Robert Young won’t admit that most of the deaths associated with guns in this country occur because there are an awful lot of guns. Again, I’m not advocating nor have I ever advocated more legal controls over guns. But I do want the issue faced and discussed in honest terms. It’s too bad we don’t get any honesty from the likes of Doctor Young.