When All You Have is a Hammer

When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail. That’s what a few doctors are proving in their advocacy to treat gun control as a public health issue:

Is a gun like a virus, a car, tobacco or alcohol? Yes say public health experts, who in the wake of recent mass shootings are calling for a fresh look at gun violence as a social disease.

What we need, they say, is a public health approach to the problem, like the highway safety measures, product changes and driving laws that slashed deaths from car crashes decades ago, even as the number of vehicles on the road rose.

One example: Guardrails are now curved to the ground instead of having sharp metal ends that stick out and pose a hazard in a crash.

“People used to spear themselves, and we blamed the drivers for that,” said Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency medicine professor who directs the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California-Davis.

It wasn’t enough back then to curb deaths just by trying to make people better drivers, and it isn’t enough now to tackle gun violence by focusing solely on the people doing the shooting, he and other doctors say.

The analogy is flawed from the beginning. Take the given example of guardrails, they mention how people used to get impaled on them so the guardrails were redesigned. What do such incidents have in common with acts of violence? Little. We make changes in guardrails, automobiles, chainsaws, etc. safer to prevent injuries in accidents. Violence isn’t accidental, a person who initiates violence against another is making a conscious purposeful action. The shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin weren’t the result of a person failing to pay attention to trigger discipline and accidentally shooting people, it was the result of two individuals who decided they wanted to bring violence against their fellow human beings.

Between 1990 and 2009 the number of annual automobile accidents ranged from a high of 39,386 in 1990 to a low of 30,797 in 2009 [PDF]. Part of the reason the number of accidents resulting in fatalities has been diminishing isn’t due to stricter automobile control laws but increases in safety features. Such actions work when the result of fatalities are accidental in nature. When the actions are purposeful increasing safety features doesn’t work because individuals wanting to cause harm will bypass said safety features. Gun control is an attempt to create safety features around firearms in the form of background checks, mandatory mental evaluations, etc. and people willing to harm others will also bypass these “safety” features.

When the threat is purposeful action the only real way of protecting yourself is purposeful action. You can’t stop an enraged ex from killing you by simply passing a couple of laws. Killing people is already illegal so somebody willing to kill has already demonstrated a willingness to ignore the law. In such cases you must have a means of defending yourself, of taking purposeful action. When measures are put into place to control access to firearms they merely prevent those willing to obey the law from obtaining said firearms. In other words gun control puts the lawful at a disadvantage while advantaging the lawless. To compare gun control to redesigning guardrails, it would akin to welding six foot spikes onto guardrails once it was shown people were being impaled on the current design. The redesign would put those involved in collisions with guardrails at a disadvantage while not affecting those don’t collide with guardrails.

I understand doctors deal with health issues and therefore they are biased towards seeing everything as a health issue. In this case they need to take a step back and analyze the issue. Violence doesn’t stem from accidents or making poor health decisions, it stems from some people wanting to hurt other people. The failure isn’t on the patient’s end, there is seldom anything the patient can do to prevent it.

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