Partly in honor of Dr King, who said (courtesy of today’s tweet from @MinorityHealth),
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane,” please accept this piece:
The more I have thought on this issue, the more my conclusions seem likely to anger some people, in surprising and ironic ways. I favor many reasonable new regulations I’ve seen proposed , and I’ve never owned a gun. It seems clear to me that gun advocates greatly inflate the benefits of private gun ownership: the cases where a gun owner defends his family from an intruder seem mostly hypothetical to me, I find the threat of dictatorship remote, and I can’t imagine all our self-styled militias and survivalists defending our liberties against the strongest military in world history, if it came to that. So by instinct I favor gun control.
On the other hand, my brother has owned & operated guns his entire adult life, and when I visit sometimes we shoot skeet or trap. It’s fun and quite harmless, although I must admit I’d like to see him more careful with storage. By far, I’d guess that most American children who die by gun do so entirely by accident, and at home. No intruder, just tragedy. The best defense for our children may be to lock up our guns and ammo, preferably separately.
On the other hand once again, if as a nation we do little or nothing on gun control (quite possible – we can’t agree to much of anything lately), the world will not end. It doesn’t pay, really, to think about any one tragic incident. Look at the big picture: people using gun kill about 30,000 Americans annually – perhaps 18,000 of those are suicides. Driving cars kills another 30,000 American per year. Fast food alone, if I had to guess, causes far more deaths than that. Hospital errors kill far more Americans than cars and guns combined (more later). I hear few calls to drastically restrict access to cars or cheeseburgers. People talk about guns only ‘being for killing’, not true really but that point aside, I’m focused here on basic public health. If guns were to somehow vanish today, we could save no more than 30,000 Americans next year, leaving any other (imagine!) consequences aside.
Next we come to the all-important how. How in the world, in this American culture, in this political environment, could we in our wildest dreams disappear all those guns? Let’s think briefly on what we are facing here. Some context:
First: The Constitution protects gun owners’ rights far better than it does womens’. Remember the Equal Rights Amendment (for women) that hasn’t passed for decades? Gun owners have had fundamental Constitutional protection since America’s first days. Like it or not, there we are.
As it turns out, I live near (liberal, pro gun control) Lexington, Massachusetts. Every year folks commemorate the Battle of Lexington & Concord, in which common folks attacked the British Army – their nation’s army. What were those Redcoats doing? Going to Concord to seize illegal arms. It was gun control. Forgive me as I repeat myself: to this day, we celebrate an episode of armed rebellion against gun control enforcement. Ponder the sociology a bit. There’s a nice National Park Ranger in town who will happily tell you all the details if you like. I’ve done it: it makes a strong impression. Millions of Americans imagine and fear modern Redcoats working for Washington. Crazy or not, we cannot ignore them. For this reason, Mr Biden’s arguments about how many bullets it takes to kill a deer miss the point entirely for many people. Not me, but there we are.
Second: America has waged a “War on Drugs“ for some decades now. I’m not at all in favor of drug abuse, but what have has our War accomplished so far? We’ve made legions of criminals rich. We’ve seriously corrupted the American and many other criminal justice systems. We’ve also helped terrorists fund their war on America – most heroin to this day comes from Afghanistan. We’ve paid millions of criminal lawyers’ billions of billable hours, plus tens of thousands of dollars per year per drug-offense prisoner, times millions of prisoners times many years, and we thus make sure most such prisoners will never find a good job or pay taxes, ever again. Do the math. California spends more on prisons today than it does on colleges, mostly due to drug convictions. Yet these drugs remain widely available, it seems from the news and the steady stream of addicts I see at work. Once started, we’ve found this War seemingly impossible to win or to abandon.
Let’s apply these lessons to gun control. At best, we could hope for total success: 30,000 American lives a year saved. Yet given our dismal Drug War record, do we really think we’ll have more success taking quite lethal arms away millions of really quite motivated and often well-organized people, with the Bill of Rights and arguably the strongest lobby in Congress (NRA) to back them up? At one extreme, we can after much argument save few lives with the mild efforts likely to pass muster in the end. At the other extreme, we start another costly and ineffective “War on Guns.”
Like it or not, we need to soberly face these facts. America lacks the unified will or the means to make much real progress on gun control, even now. I’d rather focus my energy on areas where we can save far more lives, at far less cost. With regret but also confidence, I say forget about gun control for the most part as a cause. Let us instead focus on a far more pressing issue. Let’s fix our horribly broken, bloated, corrupt and ineffective health care ‘system’: more like a jungle really. For all the good work of each provider (I’m one!), the American health care industry has grown like a cancer for generations. It threatens our well-being in many ways – how many tens of thousand Americans do hospital errors kill each year? (A credible estimate: 180,000 among Medicare payees alone. Imagine the total!) Look it up: ironically, American hospitals are far bigger killers than American guns. Ever-growing costs threaten our economy and prosperity, even our national security, depending as it does on economic security. Experts have long ago established that a third or more of these costs offer no health benefit whatsoever.
Despite all our obvious differences on health care today, we differ mostly on means (e.g. private vs government control), not ends. We have no Constitutional protection or big voter block to protect disease and mistakes. As daunting as it is, beneficial health care reform is arguably a piece of cake compared to substantively beneficial gun control.
We cannot afford to spend far more – FAR more than any other nation does, and more every day, especially when our results are far from the best in the world. Let’s focus our passion and our energy and investment and smarts where it will do the most good. Forget about guns: we need to focus on the bigger killer, the bigger threat. Let’s fix our health care.