OP-ED

Now Is Not the Time to Talk About Gun Control

Yesterday was.

There are two reasons not to talk about gun control in the immediate aftermath of the Newtown atrocity, and opposition by the NRA and its adherents is neither of them.

The first is that addressing gun control right after innocents are shot might in some way seem exploitative. The second is that no imaginable degree of stringent gun control could fully exclude the possibility of an unhinged adult shooting a kindergartener.

But both of these objections are as porous as the sands of our shores battered by Hurricane Sandy. And a consideration of those shores readily reveals why.

With regard to exploitation, there was no thought of it as post-Sandy ruminations turned to how we might best prevent or at least mitigate the next such catastrophe. It was not exploitative to look around the world at strategies used to interrupt storm surges, divert floodwaters, or defend infrastructure. Those reflections continue.

Similarly, it’s not exploitative when my clinical colleagues and I speak to our patients in the aftermath of a heart attack or stroke about what it will take to prevent another one. In fact, these exchanges have a well-established designation in preventive medicine: the teachable moment.

It is opportunistic, but in a positive way: There is an opportunity to do what needs to be done. Admittedly, it’s better to talk about preventing heart disease, or the drowning of Staten Island, or of New Orleans, or the shooting of children, before ever these things happen. But the trouble tends to be: Nobody is listening then.

We are constitutionally better at crisis response than crisis prevention.

We’ll get back to the Constitution shortly.

It’s not exploitative to talk about what matters when you have people’s attention as opposed to when you don’t; it’s strategic opportunism, pragmatism, and good sense. It is, of course, a damn shame that we only seem to focus our attention on disaster prevention in the immediate aftermath of disasters, public or personal. But if that is our nature, those wanting to get anything done are well advised to proceed accordingly.

As for the second argument: It’s true, no degree of gun control short of eliminating guns from the planet could guarantee that a lunatic will never again shoot an unarmed innocent. But that no more obviates discussion of sensible gun control than the fact that no degree of shoreline protection can guarantee we will never again suffer any damage from a monster storm. In defending ourselves, and our children, from monster storms or monstrous people, we are foolish to make an unattainable perfect the enemy of the good we can do.

And there is, clearly, good we can do.

Other than in the hands of military and law enforcement personnel, semi-automatic and assault weapons, and the gear that goes along with them — as in the Aurora, Colo. shooting — serve the purposes of carnage and devastation almost exclusively. Access to them should be regulated accordingly.

As for the Constitution: This really has nothing whatsoever to do with the Second Amendment, and certainly doesn’t infringe on it. The Second Amendment doesn’t say anything about what kind of “arms.” We are left, as a modern society with weapons unimagined in the days of our Founding Fathers, to figure that out for ourselves.

I will leave other Second Amendment arguments, including specific reference to a “well regulated militia,” to the Constitutional scholars; I do not pretend to be one. Sensible arguments for gun control sidestep Constitutional concerns entirely.

However we interpret the right for private citizens (having nothing to do with a well regulated militia, for what it’s worth) to bear arms, we are left to decide: What arms? We seem to agree that private citizens should not bear nuclear arms. I suspect most of us agree they should not bear chemical or biological weapons capable of destroying entire populations, either. Private citizens don’t get to bear the launch codes for missile silos.

It would be surprising news to me if even the most ardent defenders of the Second Amendment felt that private citizens should be able to have a personal nuclear arsenal. And, assuming not — then we all agree: We have to draw a line somewhere. What arms?

We might far more constructively address the question of where to draw the line once we acknowledge that — but for the truly radical and deranged — we all agree there is a line somewhere. Once we’ve done so, my contribution to the debate would simply be my own standby: Epidemiology should trump ideology.

In other words, things matter because of their effects. If everyone had an Uzi, but no one ever got shot — who would care? The reason for us to care about who has what guns is how they wind up being used.

I have written about gun control before. And, predictably, I have received a deluge of rather uncomplimentary correspondence each time. I expect a bumper crop this time, too. I have taken advantage of such exchanges to ask the more gregarious among my verbal assailants to tell me about any situation in which a semi-automatic weapon was used for self-defense. Most don’t seem to know of any, although of course anybody can track down evidence for anything somewhere in cyberspace.

The premise underlying ever-more-potent weapons for personal defense is, of course, fundamentally flawed; it is subject to the arms race principle. If more potent guns are in circulation, then both sides get them. Yes, the good guys can get them — but so can the bad guys. That might invite the good guys to argue for more potent “arms” still, but then, of course — the bad guys get those, too. The more potent the arms, the greater the collateral damage.

The first question for us all, NRA members and die-hard pacifists alike, is: Why do we care? Anyone who wants guns for all just because they like guns, and the consequences be damned, is a damn fool, and doesn’t deserve our attention. But frankly, neither does the pacifist who just hates guns, and doesn’t care if they are truly useful for self-defense. Let’s agree about what matters: consequences.

If we can manage that, then the second question is: What is the interpretation of “arms” in our right to bear arms that best protects us all, including children in kindergarten classes? If we don’t have the data, then an analysis should be commissioned to get them. And we should all then embrace the best answer an unbiased analysis can generate. If we do have the data — and yes, I think we do — then we should all pay attention to them.

If we and our children truly are safer for having semi-automatic weapons in everybody’s hands, then we should all get our hands on them. But if not, then we shouldn’t. We would still have the right to bear arms, of course — just not the ones used preferentially to take an entire classroom of kindergarteners out of the loving arms of their parents, forever.

Something bad could have happened in Newtown without semi-automatic firepower. But it would have been much less bad.

Even if we were less inclined to climate change denial, we would still have to acknowledge that there have always been hurricanes, they’ve always been potentially destructive, and we can’t prevent them. But we can examine the defenses at our disposal, and determine how to use them to produce the best possible outcomes.

We should look to guns as we look to our shores. In both cases, if what we truly care about is protecting the innocent — then sure as shooting, there are lines to be drawn in the sand.

David Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, is the founding (1998) director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. This piece first appeared at The Huffington Post.

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modern fashiongeorgia englandlegacyflyerSJ Motew, MDDataPlease Recent comment authors
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modern fashion
Guest

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from reputable sellers so that they won’t take advantage of you for any reason.

georgia england
Guest
georgia england

The facts – 100,000 shootings a year and 30,000 deaths..

georgia england
Guest
georgia england

If not not when?

If not me who?

Of course now is the time to talk about gun control.

legacyflyer
Guest
legacyflyer

DataPlease, Overall, I agree with much of what you say. I was however struck by the following quote: “Yes, I know that the Second Amendment was intended to permit citizens to protect themselves from government. If that was ever the case, it no longer is, given the range of weapons the military possesses.” Please explain to me what went on in Vietnam. The US military (and this is not meant to be a criticism of our military) did NOT manage to subdue a technologically inferior Vietcong. (As Walter Sobchak said: “The man in the black pajamas, Dude. Worthy f*#kin’ adversary.”)… Read more »

BobbyG
Guest

Is THAT what you want? An Americ-iStan? A Syria?

Seriously?

I really tire of the Crybaby Contingent of our society who want us to believe that very time we don’t get our own way is is cause for Second Amendment Remedies?

to wit: http://sharronangle.blogspot.com

J. Stefan Walker, M.D.
Guest
J. Stefan Walker, M.D.

Afghanistan is not the best analogy, perhaps; for North America, how is gun control working for the citizens in Mexico? I presume the power of the cartels would dwindle to irrelevant if the general population were allowed and encouraged to be armed. Is this not a safe assumption?

BobbyG
Guest

Hardly.

I have a solution.

Legalize pot. Ban guns.

Problem solved.

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

BobbyG, the gun lobby and the NRA have been through this before. They have their preset strategy and are even now working the back rooms to keep the status quo. They know what buttons to push the get the kooks stirred up.

An AR ban is too easy for our exalted leaders – that’s the least we need, but it’s probably as far out as political leaders want to stick their cowardly necks.

Right now I’d settle for a gun tax to pay for mental health and law enforcement.

legacyflyer
Guest
legacyflyer

BobbyG,

I think you missed my point. I do not want to see a civil war or revolution in the U.S.

What DataPlease appeared to be saying was that our military is so technologically advanced that armed resistance is not possible. I merely pointed out the counter examples of Vietnam and Afghanistan.

legacyflyer
Guest
legacyflyer

I do not have a gun. I have lived in Baltimore City (which has a high murder rate) since 1975. I did not want to have a gun when my kids were little since it might have become an “attractive nuisance”. I think the odds of protecting my family with a gun, versus having the gun misused, stolen, etc. favored not having a gun. When my second wife was living in the DC area by herself, she had a loaded .38 in the drawer of her nightstand. She is definitely NOT a violent or bloodthirsty person, but as a single… Read more »

motomed
Guest
motomed

Peter1, apparently I’m not allowed to reply, but the supreme court has already dealth with the notion of a milita and has upheld that the second amendment applies to individuals. Disagree all you’d like, that’s what they have ruled.

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

motored, didn’t you just reply?

Anyway, I think we’ll see in the next several months whether the Supreme Court will uphold its fuzzy definitions (claimed by both sides) of the “right of individuals” to own any gun (or clip size) they want.

motomed
Guest
motomed

The next gun case of interest that will find its way to the court is going to be on concealed carry bans. There are appeals court decisions that are currently in conflict, so this should happen within the next year. They could take that opportunity to offer a broad opinion that could help shed some light on the assault weapons issue, but in recent gun cases they have deliberately tried to offer an opinion that is narrow in focus and that applies only the specific case before them. I’m not convinced a ban will ever make it through congress. The… Read more »

SJ Motew, MD
Guest

Excellent points on all sides, ongoing rehashing of logical arguments that support both views. I am curious though, relevant to the point continually brought-up comparing other industrialized countries, What is the reason for such low gun murder events in GB, Australia, Canada? I am open to the concept that it may not related to gun control, but if its not gun control, we need to be replicating, Though I haven’t found an argument from the pro-gun side to explain.

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

motomed says: “Quotes are from the Heller decision, not difficult to find. Better check sales figures on AR’s before you try to make the argument that they don’t pass the common use test.” Here is an excerpt from Heller: “(2) Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession… Read more »

motomed
Guest
motomed

are you even reading the last quote? It says the right specifically does apply to weapons used by militias. That would be an AR-15. They are in common use for lawful purposes. All of that would lead to the conclusion that AR’s would be covered under the second amendment, and banning them would be unconstitutional.

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

“It says the right specifically does apply to weapons used by militias. That would be an AR-15.” Not necessarily. By your reasoning a machine gun could be protected by the 2nd Amendment. “During oral argument in DC v. Heller, the Justices asked many questions about whether the Second Amendment protected machine guns. Alan Gura, who argued on behalf of Dick Heller, conceded (to the disappointment of many gun-rights supporters) that machine guns “are not appropriate to civilian use” as they are not “commonly in ordinary use.” “The Supreme Court’s interpretations of the 1939 Miller opinion: District of Columbia v. Heller… Read more »

motomed
Guest
motomed

literally everything in that supports the notion that a ban on AR-15’s would be unconstitutional. Is an AR “ordinary military equipment” yep (well actually the military version is capable of select fire…. so the civilian AR is a tamer version, but you get the idea) Can they “contribute to the common defense” yep Are they “in common use for lawful purposes” yep I’m not sure if you just don’t understand the difference between an AR and a machine gun, or if you aren’t aware of how common ARs are, or what the deal is, but you’re digging up more quotes… Read more »

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

“Is an AR “ordinary military equipment” yep”

Is a machine gun “ordinary military equipment”?

But actually we’re not talking about the military, the 2nd Amendment addresses a militia. In fact it states a “well regulated militia”. We could literally impose all sorts of stipulations on people possessing firearms as they are presenting themselves as “militia”.

I’d like to propose we regulate the “militia” to report each year for physical examination and any found to be overweight be ordered to get in shape or loose their militia status. That should get rid of about 3/4 of the guns.

Maggie Mahar
Guest

Fact: “When it comes to guns, the United States is exceptional. The U.S. has the highest civilian gun ownership rate in the world, with 89 guns per 100 people, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey.” The U.S. gun lobby sometimes cites peaceful, alpine Switzerland as an example of a country that has many privately owned guns and little violent crime. Like the United States, it has a strong gun culture and with plentiful shooting clubs — but also a mass citizen militia. Members of the part-time militia, in which most men serve, are allowed to keep their weapons at… Read more »

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

“The NCVS provided the data for the 108,000 defensive gun uses, cited here in JAMA”

Looks to be a 1998 article citing 1995 data.

This is a little more up to date.

http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/30/opinion/frum-guns-safer/index.html

Possibly why shooters committ suicide:

http://www.wired.com/opinion/2012/12/why-spree-killers-kill-themselves/

Adam
Guest
Adam

What are the sociological factors that are causing a tragedy like this? Unless we get to the root of the problem we haven’t solved anything

DeterminedMD
Guest
DeterminedMD

very true, but you can’t vilify society, as too vague a scapegoat. Nope, gotta find a select individual or group to pin the blame, so we go after, in order, gun zealots, video game and hollywood producers of violence, mental health patients and providers, and people who don’t scream in absolute perfect echo the mob mentality agenda. Extremism has f—-d up this country in so many ways, but, as long as moderate and independents continue to shy away and let the extremists get away with their shrill pontifications, society loses. Societal factors? Start at the top, Republican and Democrat thick… Read more »

Marian Grant
Guest
Marian Grant

I am in total support of using this experience to motivate the public and the legistators to start enacting sensible gun control. Maybe this will be like the case that started the M.A.D.D. movement against drunk driving that has been so successful. We are alone among civilized nations at allowing such weapons and their resulting carnage. The madness needs to stop now.

motomed
Guest
motomed

we are most certainly not alone among civilized nations when it comes to allowing such weapons. There are countries with just as much access to firearms as the US who don’t have anywhere near our violence, and there are countries that attempt to restrict ownership beyond what has any hope of happening here that have violence and death far greater than the US.

Maggie Mahar
Guest

First, consider the fact that the U.S. is the only developed country in the world where these mass murders occur with some regularity. Do you really believe this is becuase there is little or no mental illness in these other countries? Or is it because guns are not so readily available? Someone once aid: Canada is a North American country where everyone has health insurance. The U.S. is a North American country where everyone has a gun. “Following the massacre in Aurora, Colorado Adam Gopnik wrote: The reality is simple: every country struggles with madmen and ideologues with guns, and… Read more »

Alex
Guest
Alex

One thought from overseas – I don’t have any involvement in how you approach gun control, but there seems to be a lack of understanding as to what exactly happened, what impact the choice and availability of guns had, and as to how it can be prevented. Lots of partisan anti-/pro-gun discussion but if you are serious about preventing these horrific acts recurring, then this should be approached in a proper, empirical manner. Time spent banning ‘assault rifles’ might be well spent, or it might just mean the next massacre is done with a shotgun, or an illegally owned weapon.… Read more »

motomed
Guest
motomed

I couldn’t agree more. There is more data available than most are willing to admit. US universities run about 90% liberal, so they have been very hesitant to do the research needed in these areas. a lot of the research that has already been done doesn’t support the desired conclusion. We tried an assault weapons ban once already, many people have tried very hard to show that it accomplished something. It didn’t.

Peter1
Guest
Peter1
motomed
Guest
motomed

just because students don’t come out liberal, doesn’t mean the profs. aren’t. They’re the ones driving the research.

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/10/24/survey-finds-professors-already-liberal-have-moved-further-left

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

What research? Gun control research? Maybe you an point me to some biased gun control research by liberal profs?

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

“We tried an assault weapons ban once already, many people have tried very hard to show that it accomplished something. It didn’t.”

If It didn’t it was for good reason.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/12/17/everything-you-need-to-know-about-banning-assault-weapons-in-one-post/

An assault weapons ban is easy for politicians who don’t want to tackle the hard issues.

motomed
Guest
motomed

The problems cited as causing the first ban to fail have only been magnified since. Far more rifles and magazines on the market now than there were in 94. Any ban that has any chance of passing now would still only limit future sale, so even if there were a definition of what was banned that was solid enough to prevent manufacturers from going around it, the market is still more than saturated. We can dream about a military style roundup, or even a law that prohibits guns already owned and calls for a voluntary turn in, but neither scenario… Read more »

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

“The problems cited as causing the first ban to fail have only been magnified since.”

Certainly not because of attempts at gun control, to the contrary, because of a lack of proper gun control.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

The main reason I oppose any form of gun prohibition is because like any other form of prohibition, it won’t work. I’m not sure why the Left can be right on drug prohibition, but not gun prohibition. Creating yet another black market doesn’t sound like such a great idea. Add to the fact that most gun crimes are committed with illegal weapons, add to the fact that you’re more likely to be hit by an asteroid then be shot at in school, add to the fact that any attempts to take away guns (which would never happen) would require a… Read more »

Peter1
Guest
Peter1

“I’m not sure why the Left can be right on drug prohibition, but not gun prohibition. Creating yet another black market doesn’t sound like such a great idea.” When was the last time marijuana killed 20 children in a school or attacked you in a movie theater? Where would this black market come from? “Add to the fact that most gun crimes are committed with illegal weapons” Not so: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/guns/procon/guns.html “add to the fact that you’re more likely to be hit by an asteroid then be shot at in school” How many mass shootings have we had against how many… Read more »