No, Guns Are Not A ‘Public Health Crisis’

No, Guns Are Not A ‘Public Health Crisis’

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.

Properly understood, “public health” deals with the provision and distribution of public goods, that is, commonly owned or government-owned resources over which no one person or group of people have control. Mostly this includes air and water, which are the primary transmission mediums for most diseases. Since those resources are truly “public,” no one has sufficient interest in maintaining their cleanliness. Thus, one person pouring tainted water into a well can start an epidemic that can kill hundreds, if not thousands.

By wrongly declaring that gun violence is a “public health crisis,” the AMA and others have put their biases against guns on the table.

Guns and gun violence are not in the same category. Gun violence may be widespread, but that does not turn it into a “public health crisis.” Bullets do not float around in the air, randomly finding victims and then multiplying to infect more. Guns are possessed by individuals, not owned by the “public,” and more than 99 percent of those guns will never be used to commit a crime. Moreover, many people derive benefits from guns, both in terms of enjoying owning them and by protecting themselves from attackers.

Thus, unlike, say, cholera or the Zika virus, there is no “scientific” answer to the question, “how many guns should there be?” Such an answer, if it existed, would require a cost-benefit analysis, something that doctors are ill-equipped to do. Doctors are good at combating things from which no one benefits—from heart attacks to AIDS to high blood pressure—not things that some people prominently display above their fireplaces.

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