Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Handguns, Health, and the Second Amendment

Today’s New England Journal of Medicine has an interesting editorial that is not in the editorial section. Handguns, Health, and the Second Amendment. It is also surprising that it is not part of their free content. The NEJM tends to make articles, that they feel are important, available for free.

What did a couple of medical ethicists, From the Department of Health Law, Bioethics, and Human Rights, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, have to write about the District of Columbia v. Heller decision? Well, they spent most of the 6 pages giving their legal opinions.

What did these non-Constitutional scholars not address, or just barely address? Tangentially, they did mention that we have a problem with violence in the United States. What they did not address at all, is the way that gun control might have the effect of decreasing that violence.

Is the problem with handgun crime one of otherwise law abiding people obtaining guns for their personal protection?

Is the problem with handgun crime one of criminals obtaining guns illegally for the purpose of committing even more crimes?

The article seemed to take the approach that is common with gun control efforts. It assumes that by aggressively prosecuting the first individual, there will be a decrease in handgun crime.

This is like the drunk looking for his keys under a streetlight. Where did he lose his keys? Nowhere near the streetlight, but he knows that the light is better under the streetlight, so that is where he will look.

Guns do not have the ability to posses the soul of the gun owner and cause the person to become violent. This is silly. No more than RSI (Rapid Sequence Induction/Intubation) causes people to ignore the use of waveform capnography to confirm placement of the endotracheal tube. No more than any tool will control the will of the person using the tool.

What is never explained is the way that disarming law abiding citizens has any effect on the violent criminals. True, there will be fewer guns available to be stolen and sold/bartered to the violent criminals. Anybody who thinks this will seriously decrease the crime rate is clearly not grasping the concept that these are criminals. They do not need to obtain guns legally. Except for the amateur criminal, they are already well armed. It will only cause the law abiding citizens to not have protection against violent criminals.

OK, there will be some protection, but how many criminal attacks with a handgun are interrupted by the police before the gun wielding criminal has a chance to fire some shots into the unarmed victim?

Ah, but what about crimes of passion? Otherwise law abiding citizens become so irate that they use a handgun to attack the person they are not happy with. While the hand gun is the most expeditious way of accomplishing this, it is far from the only way. In England, where you practically have to be James Bond to get a handgun, there have been a lot of knife laws put into effect. The gun laws do not seem to make people any more agreeable. Knives also kill, so we have to ban those evil knives.

If this didn’t work with guns, why will it work with knives?

As with anything else – the problem is not the tool. The problem is the person misusing the tool. Handgun, laryngoscope blade, medication, automobile, knife, legislative power, . . . . Attacking the tool is not going to fix the problem of misuse. This will only cause the dangerous people to be dangerous with other tools.

The problem of violence is a significant problem. Mistaking it for a problem of guns, is not the way to solve the problem. When the legal guns are all gone, the problem will be knives, then baseball bats, or tire irons, or rocks, or automobiles, or something else. It doesn’t really matter what the tool is. The problem is the hand behind the tool. The hand is following the direction of a faulty brain. That does not mean that the brain will not be resourceful in finding other ways to be violent.

These passionately violent morons just help the Lawmakers of Unintended Consequences to make laws that continue to ignore the violent criminals.

Late entry – 10:40 5/28/09 – for a different take on this NEJM piece, read:

Ah, Yes, the “Guns as Disease Vector” Meme!