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Private Guns, Public Health New edition Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0472031627
ISBN-10: 0472031627
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Editorial Reviews

From The New England Journal of Medicine

The public health community began researching gun violence about two decades ago, a late entrant in a field traditionally occupied by criminologists. David Hemenway, an economist at the Harvard School of Public Health and the director of the Injury Control Research Center there, has been a leader in this effort. His book is the first to synthesize the findings in this new field and to reference other literature as well. The book provides an account of the nature of the problem of gun violence and views about what can be done to mitigate it, engaging all the principal controversies. Scholars will appreciate the author's logical caution in drawing inferences from the evidence, as well as the methodologic appendix and superb bibliography. Yet the book is highly readable and will serve advocates and other interested citizens as an accessible, comprehensive briefing on the relevant statistics and arguments. (Figure) Hemenway develops the public health approach as a pragmatic, science-based effort to reduce injuries and deaths from gun violence. The goal is not to assign blame but, rather, to find solutions, with an emphasis on prevention. The canonical example for injury-control investigators is highway safety, in which the comprehensive approach propounded by Bill Haddon, a physician who served as the first director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, continues to provide the conceptual framework. Haddon sought to direct the focus in highway safety away from improved driving and toward improved design of vehicles and roadways. For gun violence, the analogy is to focus less on the shooters and more on access to guns and their design. Of course, it is not obvious that an approach that has been successful in reducing highway crashes, which are mostly unintentional, will also be successful in curtailing the intentional acts (suicide and assault) that produce most gun injuries and deaths. If shooters were determined, resourceful people with clear and sustained deadly intent, then regulating guns would likely have little effect on the number of homicides and suicides; they would find a way. But in the real world, as Hemenway spells out, a large portion of serious intentional violence would be less deadly if guns were less readily available or less user-friendly. Furthermore, although gun "accidents" make up only a small fraction of the total gun injuries, they are common enough that the Consumer Product Safety Commission would surely give them high priority if it were not barred from doing so by federal law. Another feature separates firearms from vehicles: the possibility of "virtuous use." The belief in the importance of giving civilians a means of self-defense has long been used as an argument for preserving the right to keep handguns in the home. In recent decades, that philosophy has fueled a successful effort to ease state restrictions on carrying concealed weapons in public. This campaign has made great use of the work of criminologist Gary Kleck, who concluded from his analysis of survey data that there are millions of virtuous self-defense uses of guns each year. Hemenway has done more than any other scholar in rebutting that absurd claim. The book includes a summary of his results, which are so definitive as to settle the issue for any open-minded observer. When it comes time to assess the evidence on the effectiveness of particular interventions to reduce gun violence, Hemenway is restrained. He notes, "Unfortunately, there exist few convincing evaluations of past firearms laws." In reviewing the evidence on what works and what might work, he tends to believe that studies support the feasibility of reducing accidents and suicides more than they do the likelihood of cutting down on gun assaults. Here again, he summons a public health core principle: that good data are the precondition for progress. Indeed, he and his center get much of the credit for designing a practical system that is now in the pilot stage in a number of states, with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The public health approach rests on the optimistic belief that good science will engender good policy and practice. Optimism is a scarce commodity in the area of gun policy. Private Guns, Public Health supplies reason to hope. Philip J. Cook, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2004 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Diagnosing and treating the gun violence epidemic demands . . . public health solutions in conjunction with legislative and law enforcement strategies."
---Kweisi Mfume, President and CEO, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

". . . essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the tragedy of gun violence in America. . . ."
---Richard North Patterson
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press; New edition edition (December 29, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0472031627
  • ISBN-13: 978-0472031627
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By DebW on February 10, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Hemenway's book offers a fascinating and refreshingly pragmatic approach to the topic of gun-related death and injuries: the public health approach. The described research and proposed corrective measures have much in common with those which revolutionized car safety, resulting in a dramatic decline in automobile-related injury and death within a few decades of implementation.

An important message of the book is that "pro-health" is not "anti-gun" any more than it is "anti-car." Another is that our solutions to gun-related public health problems cannot be effective in pure terms of "good guys" against "bad guys" any more than our solutions to car-related public health problems could be addressed purely in terms of "good drivers" and "bad drivers."

While gun-related problems may at first appear quite different from car-related problems, the best solutions may be very similar. For example, while there is inarguably a correlation between fewer cars/ less driving and fewer automobile-related injuries in a population, it is also true that fewer guns/ fewer people carrying guns in a population will correlate to fewer gun-related injuries in that population (when compared to similar populations--i.e. rural to rural, urban to urban, etc). It may not be necessary, however, to reduce gun ownership in order to achieve a meaningful reduction in gun-related injuries and deaths. After all, the impressive gains we've achieved in reducing auto-related injuries and deaths have been driven primarily by changes to the product--the car, rather than changes to the driver or driving habits.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dawn Ohanian on April 29, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have seen Professor Hemmenway speak on numerous occasions. He is the leading expert on guns in our culture and his book outlines how guns affect public health. Not only do I have this book on my book shelf to reference whenever the issue of gun violence solutions arise, I recently purchased a copy for a friend who is struggling to understand the depth of this debate. I highly recommend this thoughtful and intelligent resource.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By James Atwood on March 2, 2014
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As David Hemenway makes his case that gun violence in America must be regarded as a public health issue, he never makes a claim without solid data to support it. Although he is a scholar his work is immensely readable and understandable by those who have not been schooled in his scientific tradition. This is a very important book and should have six stars.
James E. Atwood, Author of America and Its Guns: A theological Expose.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Joy L Lee on December 30, 2013
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A bit late to review but this book is a must-read for anyone who wants to talk about guns and gain a better understanding of the connection between guns and health. The book is clear, thorough and achieves a great balance between accessibility and rigorous research. I can't recommend it enough.
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12 of 21 people found the following review helpful By G. Dix on July 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
On the subject of guns in America there is more heat than light. This is remarkable since guns affect so many American families. In this lucid and fascinating book David Hemenway explores the connections between guns and crime, of course.

But Hemenway goes well beyond that. He says, for example, "A nation may be judged by how well it protects its children," and explains why we have off-the-charts rates of gun suicide and unintentional gun death. The answer is a lot more interesting than just that we have a lot of guns. Who has them? What types--handguns, rifles? How are they stored? Many people now own guns for protection. Well, are they likely to protect, or not? He summarizes the carefully done research on these topics and addresses many myths.

Who makes and who sells guns? How are they regulated--or not? How about the unregulated market? How about guns not just in homes, but in schools, and in public?

David Hemenway, Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, begins his book with a quote, "[T]he history of public health might well be written as a record of successive re-defining of the unacceptable." (G. Vickers) Certainly the level of trauma American families suffer from gun homicide, suicide, domestic violence and other misuse of firearms, and from the many loopholes in our gun laws is unacceptable.

Most people agree, but many are unsure what they should do because these problems seem so complex. Before we can help prevent gun violence without infringing on anyone's rights, we need to better understand the problem. Read this book. You will find it fascinating as well as enlightening.
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60 of 99 people found the following review helpful By asdf on August 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
I got this hoping for a dispassionate, empirical review of the literature on guns and violence from a pro-control perspective. Unfortunately, the reasoning is far too weak to make this the "definitive" work that other reviewers described.

As an example, Hemenway argues that Gary Kleck's estimate of 2.5 million defensive gun uses (DGUs) per year is wrong. He spends one sentence describing Kleck's methodology, then tries to show that his estimate of DGUs against burglars, 845000, was impossibly high. He calculates a "more reasonable" estimate of 20000, by taking the number reported to police for a single city over a single four-month period, multiplying this number by 3 (to get an annual rate) and scaling it to the entire population of the US. He does not examine whether his sample is representative for the entire country over the entire year. He also does not consider that DGUs which go unreported to the police would be missing from his estimate. In fact, he implicitly assumes that all DGUs are reported to the National Crime Victim Survey and the police, and uses this assumption to force the contradictions he needs. Based on this discrepancy between Kleck's estimate and his own, and a few more equally fallacious comparisons, Hemenway triumphantly dismisses Kleck's work as "not plausible," "a vast overestimate," "grossly exaggerated," and "the most outrageous number mentioned in a policy discussion by an elected official." Hemenway also makes no mention of the 15 other surveys with similar DGU estimates cited by Kleck, yet still asserts that "all attempts at external validation [of Kleck's estimate] reveal it to be a huge overestimate."

This kind of sloppy deduction from unstated (and doubtful) assumptions completely destroyed the author's credibility.
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