Guns, Crime and Doctors

It's safer to travel by airplane than by car, but people feel more secure on the road. The likely reason is that we feel less threatened when we have some control: Unlike passive passengers in jets, drivers can enjoy the illusion that their risk depends completely on their own actions.


Some people have similar feelings about crime: They think if they are armed, they can protect themselves and come out better than us milquetoasts who count on the police to keep us safe.

Those feelings fuel a lot of Hollywood fantasies, but they also spur serious debates. For instance, John Lott of the University of Maryland claims arming the general public reduces crime. Other scholars say that's hooey (this pdf is a good summary of their reasons).

But the pro-gun arguments seem to be working, because American states over the past 20 years have been relaxing their gun laws to permit ordinary people to carry concealed weapons.

This week, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School weighed in. Examining 677 Philadelphia shooting victims between 2003 and 2006, the epidemiologists concluded that your risk of getting shot is 4.5 times higher if you're carrying a gun than if you aren't.

However, the study didn't compare armed assault victims to unarmed victims. Instead, it compared shooting victims to the general population, in the same way that earlier epidemiological studies compared smokers with non-smokers to assess tobacco risks.

The trouble there is that a link between gun possession and bullet wounds doesn't prove causality. Perhaps going out and buying a pistol instantly puts the average Philadelphian at a higher risk of getting shot. But isn't it more likely that this effect is due to people who carry guns living differently from people who stay home at night to knit?

This is not an argument in favor of handguns for all. It's just a question: Are the methods developed to find the health risks of cigarettes and salt really appropriate for a cultural-political issue like gun-possession?

Perhaps it's not just the Charles Bronson wannabees who have fantasies of control. Perhaps those in public health who want to medicalize the issue of firearms are indulging in a pipe dream of their own, a dream that the right kind of regulations can make people live better lives.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

The dos and don’ts of helping a drug-addicted person recover

How you talk to people with drug addiction might save their life.

Videos
  • Addiction is a learning disorder; it's not a sign that someone is a bad person.
  • Tough love doesn't help drug-addicted people. Research shows that the best way to get people help is through compassion, empathy and support. Approach them as an equal human being deserving of respect.
  • As a first step to recovery, Maia Szalavitz recommends the family or friends of people with addiction get them a complete psychiatric evaluation by somebody who is not affiliated with any treatment organization. Unfortunately, warns Szalavitz, some people will try to make a profit off of an addicted person without informing them of their full options.
Keep reading Show less

The most culturally chauvinist people in Europe? Greeks, new research suggests

Meanwhile, Spaniards are the least likely to say their culture is superior to others.

Image: Pew Research Center
Strange Maps
  • Survey by Pew Research Center shows great variation in chauvinism across Europe.
  • Eight most chauvinist countries are in the east, and include Russia.
  • British much more likely than French (and slightly more likely than Germans) to say their culture is "superior" to others.
Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less