Nel's New Day

March 25, 2014

Guns: Public Health Issue

As Michael Cohen wrote in The Guardian, “The only thing that stops a good guy against guns is the gun lobby.” Such is the case of nominee for U.S. surgeon general, Dr Vivek Murthy. Once the right-wing element in the country, led by Fox, had polished off the possibility of highly qualified civil rights attorney Debo Adegbile to attain a position in the Department of Justice, they attacked Murthy. His sin was declaring that gun violence is a public health issue because of the high rate of deaths and injuries every year from guns in the United States.

One of the attacks was that he hadn’t done much in his career. Yet, former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher emphasized Murthy’s “impressive track record of accomplishments as an innovative and well-respected thought leader in healthcare.” Satcher served for both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

NRAsurgeon720 cartoon

The NRA, a front for the gun industry, has long dabbled in public health issues. It tried to keep pediatricians from counseling parents about dangers of guns in the home just as medical professionals talk about the dangers of swimming pools and riding bicycles without helmets. A 2011 Florida gag law, crafted by the NRA for the gun industry, stopped doctors from “making written inquiry or asking questions concerning the ownership of a firearm or ammunition by the patient or by a family member of the patient.” A district court decision that the law violated free speech put the law into the appeals process.

“Guns are a health care issue,” Murthy tweeted in 2012. He also stated, “Tired of politicians playing politics w/ guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of NRA.” The lobby group, backed by the gun industry, took great offense at this statement. But Murthy is right. Between eight and ten Democratic senators are afraid of voting for him, even if some of them are not running for re-election this year. That leaves the nomination without a simple majority in the Senate.

The NRA, front for the gun industry, refuses to admit that the thousands of deaths and injuries from guns are, in reality, a public health issue. In 2010, the number of gun deaths was equal to those from car accidents, and the number of gun deaths is staying steady. In comparison, car accidents not kill people at ten percent the rate of 50 years ago when measuring the number of miles that people drive.

The American Public Health Association calls gun violence in the United States “a major public health problem and a leading cause of premature death.” The American Medical Association adopted a resolution in 2011 officially opposing any law that prevents doctors from openly talking about gun safety and the risk of firearms in the household with patients. A 2013 essay in the New England Journal of Medicine  recommends that a public health and safety campaign, like the one that greatly reduced deaths from car accidents, should be applied to gun deaths and injuries.

C. Everett Koop, President Ronald Reagan’s Surgeon General, called gun violence a “public health emergency.” Over 20 years ago, he wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association: “The right to own or operate a motor vehicle carries with it certain responsibilities … We propose that the right to own or operate a firearm carries with it the same prior conditions.”

The risk of homicide in neighborhoods located near a gun retailer is almost 13 times higher than in those far from one. The lapse of the Assault Weapons Ban in 2004 caused a surge in the homicide rate of more than 16.4 percent across the border in Mexico. Homicide rates in Mexican municipalities near California, where a state-level assault weapons ban was still in effect after 2004, rose less than in municipalities near other U.S. border states. The lapse of Missouri’s background check law to an annual rise of 60 murders.

The NRA has launched a full-bore attack against what it called Murthy’s Radical gun control measures”:

“Murthy has some crazy, crazy ideas about guns. For example, he wants to bring back the federal assault weapons ban. He supports universal background checks; mandatory-waiting periods of 48 hours for gun purchases, mandatory safety training for gun owners and limits on ammunition purchases. He even wants to do away with laws that would prevent doctors from discussing gun safety with their patients; he wants to see laws that prohibit physicians from documenting gun ownership be repealed; and he wants to restore CDC and NIH funding to conduct firearms research.”

As Michael Cohen wrote:

“Only in America’s up-is-down, sky-is-green, right-is-wrong discussion about guns would views like those of Vivek Murthy be considered radical. Indeed, the good doctor’s views are remarkably similar to those held by a majority of Americans.”

The result of the NRA lobbying on behalf of the gun industry is that more and more states are eradicating gun laws. The NRA has no concern about the increasing carnage from guns in the United States; it just serves as a shill for the gun industry.

Catey Hill, who writes articles for the Wall Street Journal and other business sites about “ten things” that industries don’t want the public to know, lists ten things about the gun industry in “What you don’t know about the firearms business can cost you.” Each of these have supplemental information that you can access here:

  • “Owning our product may be hazardous to your health.”
  • “Fear is good for profits”
  • “Guns get special treatment under the law”
  • “We need your kids to play with guns”
  • “Gun control may work. We still think it’s a bad idea”
  • “Politically, we’re practically unbeatable”
  • “Under the “Gun Ban Obama’, we’re doing just fine”
  • “Sometimes we aren’t ‘pro gun’ enough”
  • “We sell to people we probably shouldn’t”
  • “Ammo is our secret (business) weapon”

The rejuvenated gun industry has brought big bucks to the NRA. The 300 manufacturers representing $6 billion in revenue donated over $76 million to the NRA in just 2009. Small and medium-sized gun sellers also give liberally to the NRA. The 54,000 licensed dealers and the industry as a whole may employ as many as 100,000 people. Claiming President Obama as a threat, the NRA boosted expenditures from 2006 to 2010 by 37 percent. By 2012, the NRA’s revenues swelled to $256 million with three individuals giving $3 million or more and another 15 donors writing checks of between $100,000 and $1 million. As a non-profit, the NRA doesn’t have to name its donors.

The National Shooting Sports Federation generously credits the gun industry with benefiting the U.S. economy by $18 billion. Yet the NRA and the gun industry cost the people of the United States $47 billion every year because of deaths and injuries. In Mexico, 50 percent of the 120,000 murders are from guns, and 68 percent of the guns in Mexico came from sales in the United States.

In 2012, Washington state saw the highest tally of gun injuries since 1995 and 30 percent higher than the average during that period. At the same time, firearms conducted three times the number of background checks for gun sales as a decade earlier. A measure requiring firearm dealers to offer trigger locks when selling guns, as 11 states already require, went down in flames. So did a measure to make it a crime of reckless endangerment for adults to allow an unsupervised child to gain access to a gun that results in shooting. That crime exists in 28 states.

In Georgia, a House bill would allow convicted felons who kills someone with an illegally possessed gun to claim justification under the state’s Stand Your Ground law. If the measure passes, Georgia convicted felons can’t vote, but they can legally kill someone. A second measure would allow concealed guns on college campuses, despite the opposition of 78 percent of polled Georgians.

Florida has become notorious for the effects of its Stand Your Ground law, especially after a Tampa Bay Times’ review of 200 cases found an “uneven application” and “shocking outcomes.”  State Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) has a solution for this problem: don’t let anyone find out about what happens with Stand Your Ground in Florida. He has filed an amendment to stop access to court records in self-defense cases. People found innocent in one of these cases could “apply for a certificate of eligibility to expunge the associated criminal history record.” This amendment is attached to the bill that gives Stand Your Ground immunity to anyone who fires warning shots during a confrontation.

The Sunshine State has an answer for the public health problem of gun deaths and injuries: just shut off the lights. Watch the rest of the country follow suit.


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