Treating firearm violence like a contagious disease


Following up on a previous post by aelkhatib.

When I first heard about the 1996 amendment prohibiting the Center for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting research on firearm violence prevention I was very surprised. I could not believe that there was a legal mechanism that would prevent researchers from studying the causes of something impacting so heavily the health of populations. The amendment, authored by former U.S. House Representative Jay Dickey, stated “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control”; the language did not explicitly ban research on gun violence, but along with the cuts to CDC’s budget, there was a clear message against researchers trying to study this topic. Later, in the next decades, funding for firearm injury prevention dropped by 96%, while the annual rate of 10 firearm related deaths per 100,000, was relatively immutable.

Amazingly, even after the occurrence of recent absurd events in which citizens have lost their lives at the hands of armed individuals, the US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee rejected an amendment that would have allowed the CDC to conduct research on the causes of firearm violence. The message: CDC should not be studying this topic! As put by one House Speaker “I’m sorry, but a gun is not a disease. Guns don’t kill people – people do.”

However, even if a gun is not a disease, can’t the firearm violence problem be tackled using an evidence-based approach? This strategy has been used in the past to confront non-infectious problems such as the incidence of fatal motor-vehicle crashes or the harms associated with second hand smoking. What if we could treat, not guns, but firearm violence like a contagious disease? This angle, endorsed by many, and clearly presented by physician Gary Slutkin in his TED talk, has lead to important reductions in firearm homicides in many neighborhoods across the US, as he describes. Interestingly, the call for more research on this topic has also been adopted by former representative Jay Dickey as shown in a 2012 co-authored Washington Post op-ed with Mark Rosenberg: “…we are in strong agreement now that scientific research should be conducted into preventing firearm injuries and that ways to prevent firearm deaths can be found without encroaching on the rights of legitimate gun owners.”

Yes, more research is needed! Time and resources must be used to rigorously study the causes of firearm violence in order to come with appropriate solutions; otherwise, answers to confront this problem might just serve as innocuous palliatives.




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