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Private Guns, Public Health 1st Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 39 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: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,345,815 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
There is a problem with gun control. The problem is that attempts to restrict firearms production and sales through the democratic political process have failed. The failure to make progress through democracy has lead various people to explore other approaches. The approach of this book is to turn a political issue into one of "science". But a science that in practice where discussion of the issues looks a whole lot more like a religious discussion.

Rather than being a matter of observation and fact, this "science" is centered around authority. There are the annointed men who live in the temple and issue decrees. The role of ordinary people is simply to accept those decrees. Science is inverted from a process of questioning to a matter of obedience. Even the language used becomes religious. To questions with the conclusions of "science" is to be a "denier". and something close to a heretic.

David Hemenway is an economics professor. The "science" he represents and the science we are told to treat as if if were laws of nature is in fact the social sciences. The world of sociology and statistical analysis. A branch of "science" which has been has been well know for decades to be less than trustworthy because of its ability to produce any conclusion the researcher wishes to find and to produce conclusions which cannot be tested by experimental methods.

He starts out with a cynical argument that he is neither pro-gun or anti-gun. He just wants to "help" people. But then he immediately undermines all his neutral credibility by producing the "scientific" conclusion that guns in private hands provide no value to society and that private possession of firearms will simply lead to more incidents of violence.
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Private Guns Public Health is a highly readable non partisan approach to sharing well documented public health aspects of gun policies. Reading this book changed my position from depression to hope. Hemenway has years of experience in the public health field, and makes very astute comparisons between the idea that teens are just going to die in car crashes frequently, because they are reckless, and the idea that gun deaths in the U.S. will remain many times as high per capita as other developed nations, because Americans are somehow just more violent. The facts show otherwise. Only in the area of gun violence are our numbers high. Hemenway quotes from a variety of reputable studies, and also shows where there are problems with some studies that are less reputable. The number of deaths in car crashes in our country have actually been hugely reduced by shatter proof windshields and seat belts, despite the fact that teens and others still sometimes drive recklessly. Similarly, by instituting sensible gun policies and standards for the manufacturing of safer guns, our gun deaths can be markedly reduced. In the past I have found it depressing to read about this issue, when the information shared was a litany of tragic stories of the people who died. Without lacking concern for the death toll in any way, Hemenway focuses strongly on what can be done about it. I have read about this issue before, but in a few pages I was educated far more usefully with this book. For instance, I had no idea before that although a quarter of American adults own a gun of some kind, 77% of all the guns owned in our country are owned by a mere 10% of our adult population. These gun owners have arsenals, whereas 90% of the population have either no guns or fewer than four.Read more ›
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In Gettysburg, PA we have a gun violence discussion group that is studying this book a few chapters at a time. Using this excellent resource cuts through many of the old stale arguments and divisions, and is helping unite different viewpoints.
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David Hemenway’s book, Private Guns, Public Health, is a phenomenal piece of work. It is an incredibly well researched and documented accounting of all the scientific literature on firearms. The information is succinctly presented and easily accessible – which is quite a feat considering the meticulous depth and large amount of information reviewed.
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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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