is “gun control” a “health issue”?

A very few folks have been making a lot of noise recently about how “gun control” – and specifically firearm-related deaths – is a “health issue”.

Unfortunately, the analogy falls flat on its face straight out of the gate simply because we only have some, if any, control over the current leading causes of death in America, while firearms are completely under human control.  Firearms are not a genetic marker that indicates your brain is going to start destroying itself as you get older – they only fire when a human makes them.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of diseases/ailments.

But if we were to ignore the lacking logical basis for such an argument, do the numbers even come close to supporting it?

Predictably, not so much.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 2,626,418 people died in 2014.  The ten leading causes for those deaths were:

  • Heart disease: 614,348
  • Cancer: 591,699
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 147,101
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 136,053
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 133,103
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 93,541
  • Diabetes: 76,488
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 55,227
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis: 48,146
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 42,773

A keen-eyed observer will note that “firearms” occurred nowhere on that list.  However, an argument could be made that “accidents” and “suicides” both include some firearm-related deaths, so let us take a page from our own playbook – the square root of 2,262,418 is approximately 1621, and that is the x and y dimension of the following graphic at full size (click to enlarge):

AmericanDeaths

Firearm-related accidents – perhaps the most accurate analog to diseases – are represented by the smallest greenish square inside the slightly larger one, and only account for 586 of the total deaths according to the CDC’s WISQARS system.  Even if one were to focus exclusively on firearm-related suicides – since “suicide” as a whole does make the top 10 – those are only 21,334 out of the total 42,773 deaths in that category; almost exactly half.  Suicide is most certainly a mental health issue, but even if you were to wave a magic wand and disappear all firearms, countries that have already gone down that path show us that suicides will still find a way.  Perhaps, in those cases, time should be better spent determining why people suicide, rather than abridging millions of Americans’ rights in a vain attempt to control how people end their lives?

Regardless, as we already know, firearm-related fatality rates are already dropping across the board, including accidents, without doctors’ unnecessary involvement in the politics of the situation.  I would suggest that their time is better spent focusing on the other diseases and afflictions in which they are subject matter experts, rather than sticking their noses into topics they know very little about, especially since some of those diseases individually account for an order of magnitude more deaths than people misusing firearms.

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6 thoughts on “is “gun control” a “health issue”?

  1. Thanks for this post. Relative risks are important to keep in mind. I thought about this myself when I had to travel to DC right after the Paris attacks in November 15. I had to remind myself that I was am more likely to die driving to DC or from what I eat while there than by any sort of gun injury. In a blog post I wrote about this I had to use a graphic from the UK: https://gunculture2point0.wordpress.com/2015/11/14/we-are-probably-safe-but-not-certainly-safe/

    So I will be happy to be able to point to this one for the US now. Keep up the good work!

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  2. And, as always, there are certainly ways of mitigating risks – situational awareness and so forth – but one of those is for people who are experts in one field to focus on that field – like doctors and illnesses – and let people who are experts in other fields focus on those fields without interference. Doctors trying to shoehorn “gun control” into a “health issue” remind me of the Heinlein quote:

    “Expertise in one field does not carry over into other fields. But experts often think so. The narrower their field of knowledge the more likely they are to think so.”

    I need to generate a cleaner version of the image. I was using a tool that I was unfamiliar with, and the results are… predictable :).

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      1. I just wrapped up a better image, so at least that is done.

        And so long as proper credit is provided, I certainly don’t mind anyone writing anything about what I’ve put up here. It’s just that some sites don’t believe in the “proper credit” part of the equation…

        Like

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