Conservatives Claim Gun Violence Is Not A Public Health Crisis, But Medical Experts Disagree

Conservative pundits lashed out at the American Medical Association (AMA) for adopting a policy calling gun violence “a public health crisis,” claiming the policy is “pseudoscientific” and telling the association to “shut up.” But numerous public health and medical experts have previously noted that “gun violence is a public health issue that has reached epidemic proportions.”

American Medical Association Adopts Policy Calling Gun Violence “A Public Health Crisis”

AMA: Gun Violence Is “A Public Health Crisis.” In a June 14 press release, the American Medical Association (AMA) announced that it had “adopted policy calling gun violence in the United States ‘a public health crisis’ requiring a comprehensive public health response and solution.” The AMA also announced it would “actively lobby Congress to overturn legislation that for 20 years has prohibited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from researching gun violence.” [American Medical Association, 6/14/16]

Right-Wing Pundits Attack AMA, Say Guns “Are Not A ‘Public Health Crisis’”

Fox’s Keith Ablow: AMA Policy Part Of“ “A Liberal Progressive Agenda,” And AMA Should “Shut Up.” Fox News Medical A-Team member Keith Ablow attacked the AMA’s announcement, calling the policy “part of the progressive agenda” trying to “eat away at gun rights with medical research.” Ablow added that the the policy was “not … doctorly” but rather “political,” and demanded the AMA “shut up.” From the June 17 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

DR. KEITH ABLOW: Of course gun violence isn't a disease. This is part of the progressive agenda, alive and well at the AMA, the American Medical Association, which has said in commenting about their desire to study this very seriously that they really need to look into the problem of uncontrolled gun ownership. Well, that's their real agenda. Because I can do their research for them, Brian. Argentina, very tough gun laws, murder rate -- twice that of the United States. Sweden, very tough gun laws, suicide, ninth leading cause of death in Sweden. I guess people are doing things other than using guns when they're sick. So there are underlying causes. If the AMA wants to do something, how about if it joined with the American Psychiatric Association and those guys did something to rebuild our mental health care system? That's what they should be doing for one thing.

[...]

ABLOW: It's not even in the top 20 [leading causes of death], but here's the thing, that presumes that the gun's the problem. Homicide is a problem of violence. There are reasons for homicide and nobody knows how many of those acts would have taken place without guns. The gun isn't the problem. It's foolishness. That's why the membership of the AMA is dwindling toward nothing and why these guys are looking for a way to grandstand. These are the people who championed Obamacare. This is just a liberal progressive agenda. They're going to eat away at gun rights with medical research. That's not being doctorly, that's being political. So stop it. Call yourself the American Political Association and shut up. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/17/16]

National Review’s Jason Richwine: AMA’s Policy “Is Pseudoscientific And A Disservice To The Debate” Over Gun Violence. National Review contributor Jason Richwine wrote that the AMA saying “‘guns are a public-health issue’ is not an argument,” and accused the AMA of “covering” its “political beliefs with the veneer of scientific objectivity.” Richwine added that the AMA’s policy is “is pseudoscientific and a disservice to the debate. From Richwine’s June 16 National Review article (emphasis original, as he notes):

Do you have a political opinion that you wish would get more traction? Here’s some cynical advice: Call it a “public-health issue.” It’s the quickest way to seize the mantle of Science, which these days is the ultimate moral high ground. Remember, you’re not a political activist — you’re just a scientifically informed citizen with a concern about public health.

The American Medical Association (AMA) upped the ante on Tuesday by formally declaring gun violence a “public-health crisis” [my emphasis] and reiterating its support for various gun control measures. Unfortunately for the AMA, affixing the “public health” label on an issue adds no value to the debate. Most political issues have some relationship to people’s health, but that doesn’t mean that Science automatically comes down on one side or another. The AMA’s declaration is another exercise in science-gilding, which is the covering of one’s political beliefs with the veneer of scientific objectivity.

[...]

The faux-objectivity of the “public health” label is persuasive only for people already inclined to agree with the AMA’s positions on guns. For others, it’s more like a declaration of hostility. After all, “public health” conjures images of pollution and disease. Making gun owners feel like they are carrying around the Zika virus is not the way to foster a productive dialogue, nor is it a way to strengthen their confidence in scientific organizations. If the AMA politicizes guns, on what issues can it be trusted at all?

Law-abiding people own guns for a reason, and they do not welcome the implication that guns serve only nefarious purposes. Nobody talks about the upside to having lead in drinking water, or about the pros and cons of acid rain. Nobody objects to the goal of wiping out Ebola. Equating guns to these more traditional public-health concerns, even just implicitly, is pseudoscientific and a disservice to the debate. [National Review, 6/14/16]

Forbes Contributor: “No, Guns Are Not A ‘Public Health Crisis.’” Forbes contributor Trevor Burrus claimed in an opinion piece headlined “No, Guns Are Not A 'Public Health Crisis'” that the AMA’s policy declaration was “a purely political stunt” and that “a group of physicians, especially those in a political trade group like the AMA, cannot invent a ‘public health crisis’ by simply declaring one.” From the June 16 piece:

In a purely political stunt, the American Medical Association has decided that it is time to declare gun violence a “public health crisis.” American gun violence is “a crisis unrivaled in any other developed country” that requires further research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to “help us understand the problems associated with gun violence.”

By definition, however, gun violence is not a “public health crisis,” and a group of physicians, especially those in a political trade group like the AMA, cannot invent a “public health crisis” by simply declaring one.

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Yet, again, there is no “scientific” answer to whether you should have a gun in your home any more than there is a “scientific” answer to whether you should own a pool, a stove, or a gas fire pit, all of which can pose dangers to children and others. There are risks and there are rewards, and only you can decide whether the benefits outweigh the costs.

[...]

These are question about personal values, not objective science. But modern public health zealots tend to disregard personal values they don’t like. Smokers, soda drinkers, fast-food eaters, and gun owners are just a few groups that are in the sights of public health warriors. Any subjective benefit someone derives from those things is disregarded and treated as unworthy of respect. It’s not a war for “public health,” it is a war against lifestyle choices that elites don’t share.

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Despite the smug sanctimony of gun-control advocates, not all questions have a simple “scientific” answer. Doctors, scientists, and other experts are prone to thinking that they could answer our vexing problems if they were only given the permission and resources to try, and the magic words “public health” are intoned as a way to claim this authority. We should not let them have it. [Forbes, 6/16/16]

Public Health Experts Agree That Gun Violence Is A Public Health Issue

National Physicians Alliance: “Gun Violence Is A Public Health Issue That Has Reached Epidemic Proportions.” The National Physicians Alliance wrote in a February 2013 policy statement that “gun violence is indisputably an issue of health” and also noted that it is “a public health issue that has reached epidemic proportions.” From the policy statement (emphasis original):

Patients have long trusted physicians to advise them on more than short-term clinical needs. This relationship of trust is of such importance that many look to the profession to guide policy-makers on health threats to the American public. Patients expect physicians to work within the science and evidence base to support policies that protect the health of the public.

Gun violence is a public health issue that has reached epidemic proportions in this country, affecting our patients, our neighbors, our communities--indeed all Americans: “The Newtown tragedy is galvanizing a national understanding of the pervasive threats that guns pose and the toll they take.”

Improving access to mental health care services and establishing true mental health parity are important and necessary aims in response to our gun violence epidemic, but policy-makers should not confuse or substitute proposals in this area for additional evidence-based and urgently needed gun violence prevention measures.

Gun violence is indisputably an issue of health, where science and evidence must guide policy. [National Physicians Alliance, February 2013]

Public Health Expert: “Gun Violence Is A Public Health Epidemic.” Dr. Lloyd Sederer, chief medical officer of the New York State Office of Mental Health, wrote a December 2015 opinion piece sub-headlined “Gun violence is a public health epidemic.” Sederer wrote that “the mass murders infesting our country now behave like an epidemic” and that “for the gun violence epidemic upon us, the deadly agents are guns and ammunition meant for war, not for a civil society.” From the December 7 U.S. News & World Report opinion article:

The now daily onslaught of violence in the United States is not a big-city, medium-city or small-town event. The incessant murders that have dominated this country's attention happen at work and school, at play, public and faith-based settings. The slain are children, adults and seniors. They are of every color and faith. Like a deadly infectious disease, the pathogen does not distinguish who will die; when that pathogen reaches epidemic proportions, everyone is exposed and no one is safe.

We face a choice between devolving into a culture of fear, blame, prejudice and enduring violence or mobilizing nationally, across diverse interests and communities, to reduce the risk of mass violence to innocent strangers, with all of us as the potential targets.

There are solutions to gun violence that exist beyond the polarizing rhetoric of constitutional rights. We have, in the past, regularly and reasonably limited the rights of privacy and liberty for public safety and survival. When tuberculosis was spreading in the mid- and late 20th century and exacting its morbid and lethal toll on Americans, public health regulations required reporting of those with the disease (those hosting the pathogen), subordinating privacy to public safety and requiring that those infected take so-called directly observed treatment or be involuntarily remanded to TB facilities, overriding their liberties. I am a public health doctor, and more than a century of public health lessons show us that an epidemic that threatens deaths on a large scale can be contained and overcome.

The mass murders infesting our country now behave like an epidemic. They are infectious, in that they tend to spread, know few boundaries (unless we create them) and weaken with reduced exposure to the agent that takes the lives of its victims. For the gun violence epidemic upon us, the deadly agents are guns and ammunition meant for war, not for a civil society. Some may say it is the people who wield the weapons that are the danger. Yet to the extent that is true, the gravest consequences of their actions can be measured by the lethality of what they used to kill, their weapons, not just that they tried to kill. [U.S. News and World Report, 12/7/15]

Doctors For America: “Gun Violence Is A Public Health Problem.” Over 2,000 physicians signed a December 2015 petition to Congress to end the ban on gun violence research. In the December 2 press release announcing the petition, Dr. Alice Chen, executive director of Doctors for America, noted that “gun violence is a public health problem that kills 90 Americans a day.” From the press release:

Physicians with Doctors for America joined the National Physicians Alliance, Doctors Council, American Medical Women's Association, American College of Preventive Medicine, The Committee of Interns and Residents, Physicians for the Prevention of Gun Violence, American Medical Student Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and special guests Reps. David Price, Nita Lowey, Mike Thompson, Robin Kelly and Mike Quigley to urge Congress to end the effective ban on the ability for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct research on gun violence.

Over 2,000 doctors in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia signed a petition urging Congress to remove these barriers to common sense research that have existed for nearly 20 years and include annual funding to identify causes and ways to prevent gun violence. “Gun violence is a public health problem that kills 90 Americans a day,” said Dr. Alice Chen, Executive Director of Doctors for America. “Physicians believe it's time to lift this effective ban and fund the research needed to save lives. We urge Congress to put patients over politics to help find solutions to our Nation's gun violence crisis.”

Gun violence is among the most difficult public health challenges we face as a country, but because of the deeply misguided ban on research, we know very little about it," said Rep. David Price. “Regardless of where we stand in the debate over gun violence, we should all be able to agree that this debate should be informed by objective data and robust scientific research. I am pleased to join members of the medical community from around the country to call for the ban's repeal, which would allow for a more honest dialogue about possible solutions to the gun violence epidemic.” [Doctors for America, 12/2/15]

U.S. Surgeon General: “Gun Violence Is A Public Health Issue.” United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has repeatedly labeled gun violence a “public health issue," telling HuffPost Live on September 15, “Whenever you have large numbers of people who are dying for preventable reasons, that constitutes a public health issue” : 

 [Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, 9/15/15]

George Washington University Master Of Public Health Program: “We Must ... Ensure Real Change” To “America's Gun Violence Epidemic.” The George Washington University's Master of Public Health program released an infographic in 2014 addressing “America's gun violence epidemic,” noting in a blog post introducing the infographic that “the availability of firearms” and the “nation's broken mental health care system” must both be remedied to “curb gun violence.” The infographic, which notes that from 2006 to 2010 there were “31,000 gun related deaths” and “156 mass killings” involving guns, implores political leaders to enforce and enhance “regulations for licensed firearm dealers ... and regulations for private sales” :

  [George Washington University, 3/19/14]