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September 14, 2015

Thank You, U.S. Gun Culture

A recent study published in the journal Injury Prevention, is ridiculous on several levels.  Right off the bat, the authors state that “Firearms violence in the USA continues to be a major public health concern.” As we’ve noted here before, violence and the criminal misuse of firearms is a criminal justice problem, not a public health epidemic.

And while violence of any nature is unfortunate, the Department of Justice released new data last month showing the continued decline in violent crime. In 2014, the rate of violent crime per 1,000 people aged 12 or older overall dropped to 20.1 per 1,000 from 79.8 in 1993. For those that argue this drop is due to improvements in the late 1990s and doesn’t indicate recent improvement, note that the 2014 rate is well below 28.4 in 2005. There’s no question the trend is downward. Looking at violent firearm misuse in particular, the rate dropped to 1.7 in 2014 compared to 7.3 in 1993.

The Injury Prevention report does not improve after the first flawed sentence. The authors make it clear they believe there are too many firearms in the United States and that the goal of their survey is to figure out if the reason Americans choose to exercise their Second Amendment right is due to a pervasive “gun culture.”

By fielding a public opinion poll on an internet site popular with Millennials, the authors measured “social gun culture” by using questions to assess, among other things, whether their social life with their family or friends involves guns. If the respondents said yes, they were deemed to have been exposed to the gun culture. Then the authors asked a series of questions to determine if the respondents owned guns.  Answering yes to questions such as whether they had “attended gun safety classes” or “advocated responsible gun ownership” put respondents into the gun owner category. Not shockingly, the study found a “strong association between gun ownership and being part of a social gun culture.”

Again, unsurprisingly, the study concluded there is a “strong association between social gun culture and gun ownership.” Because the authors’ preexisting goal is gun control, the study recommends that, “Gun cultures may need to be considered for public health strategies that aim to change gun ownership in the USA.”

 “Although notions of protection of one’s family and property originally justified gun ownership, gun ownership today is sustained in public consciousness much more through calls to constitutionally enshrined social values, reinforced intermittently by outrage at efforts to limit widespread gun availability. Insofar as social gun cultures may contribute to these prevailing social values, their co-occurrence with gun ownership suggests that social gun culture must be considered by potential public health intervention in the area.

Here’s what this means:  Watch out gun owners, the public health authorities are coming to change your dangerous “culture.”

What the authors really missed here is a connection between the rise in legal gun ownership and arguably the growth of this “culture” that prioritizes safety education programs and – in the author’s own words – advocating “responsible gun ownership, and the decline in firearms violence and unintentional injuries. If the social norms in areas with high gun ownership rates are relevant at all to the discussion, the policy prescription here should be to increase the number of law abiding, eligible adults that are willing to take on the responsibility that comes with owning a firearm for sport and protecting oneself and loved ones.

The firearms industry remains dedicated to fostering a “culture” that teaches important best practices when it comes to safety in using and storing firearms. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the public health white lab coats coming into your communities.

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Tags: criminal justice Department of Justice DOJ Firearms government relations gun culture Injury Prevention public health study violence

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