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Private Guns, Public Health 1st Edition

35 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0472114054
ISBN-10: 0472114050
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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.


"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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press; 1 edition (February 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0472114050
  • ISBN-13: 978-0472114054
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,457,100 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 11 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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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bulworth on October 20, 2015
Format: Paperback
I have been interested in the subject of gun control for years and rarely do I find any studies that have not been, on either side, manipulated in someway. Senior members of the C.D.C. have stated publicly that they have a negative view of firearms. The C.D.C. , like many other organizations, are constantly on the look out for studies that supports this core belief.
But here I have listed some basic facts from organizations that do not have an agenda: The Pew Research Center Published a study on Gun Homicide rates in the U.S. is considered the premiere study on the subject. This study is based on figures provided by Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice, C.D.C., FBI Uniform Crime Report, etc.. They found the following: Since 1993, the firearm homicide rate was 49% lower in 2010, and there were fewer deaths, even though the nation’s population grew. Violent crimes with a firearms was 75% lower in 2011 than in 1993 per the Pew study. Additionally the FBI Uniform Crime report has show that these trends have continued thru 2014.
For figures on the number of firearms in the U.S. the N.I.C.S. Background check figures are considered the most accurate. ( Just keep in mind that a modern firearm is define as being made after the year 1900.) From November 1998 - September 2015 (218,144,109) Firearm Background checks were conducted. This proves that the actual number of firearms in the U.S. could be significantly higher than that quoted by most studies.
National Criminal Justice Reference Service study of (2010) on the rate of prosecution for illegal firearm purchases. This study proved that only a very small handful of criminals are prosecuted for illegally attempting to purchase a firearm from a F.F.L. dealer.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Devin C on October 21, 2015
Format: Paperback
I used this book to write a paper which explored the causes of and proposed solutions for the issue of youth violence in African Americans. This book gave me an EXCELLENT background on the issue, and helped steer me in the right direction for developing solutions. This book is awesome, you should buy it if you want to learn more about how gun violence IS a public health issue and WHY it should be solved with a public health approach.
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3 of 6 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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63 of 106 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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