Physician Group Opposes Plan to Treat Gun Crime as a Public Health Problem

Dr. Robert Young says the ability to decide whether to engage in violence differentiates crime from disease when it comes to setting public health strategies.
Physician Group Opposes Plan to Treat Gun Crime as a Public Health Problem
Gun safety advocates rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments in the Second Amendment case NY State Rifle & Pistol v. City of New York, N.Y., in Washington, on Dec. 2, 2019. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Michael Clements

Doctors Megan Ranney and Robert Young think that gun crime is a problem, but they can’t agree on a solution.

As physicians, they have both dealt with grievous gunshot wounds. They’ve seen families and communities devastated by criminals with guns. They agree that more can and should be done.

Dr. Ranney wants to treat the problem as a public health issue. Dr. Young thinks that will only make the problem worse.

Dr. Ranney is the dean of the Yale School of Public Health and a former emergency room doctor. On Nov. 28, 2023, she told a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary that her emergency room experience made the solution clear.

According to Dr. Ranney, the solution must involve strategies that have been used to address public health issues, such as deaths from car crashes and heart disease. She recommends a four-step process of gathering data, determining the scope of the problem, devising interventions, and implementing those interventions in proportion to the size of the problem.

To emphasize the severity of the issue, Dr. Ranney repeated a claim that has been made by many who favor gun control, including President Joe Biden.

“In America, firearms are now the leading cause of death for American children aged 1 through 19,” she said.

She and others on the panel say several generations have grown up in a culture of violence and poverty.

“There are ways to do this without abrogating gun owners’ rights,” she said.

Vaughn Bryant is the executive director of Metropolitan Peace Initiatives of Chicago (MPI). He told the hearing that he had dealt firsthand with the type of young people Dr. Ranney tended to in the emergency room.

Law enforcement officers investigate the crime scene near the border between the Morgan Park and West Pullman neighborhoods in Chicago, Ill., on July 7, 2021. (Kamil Krzaczynski/Getty Images)
Law enforcement officers investigate the crime scene near the border between the Morgan Park and West Pullman neighborhoods in Chicago, Ill., on July 7, 2021. (Kamil Krzaczynski/Getty Images)

Mr. Bryant has worked to address violence in Chicago through MPI since 2017. He said that in 2016, 762 people were killed and 4,580 were wounded by gunfire in the city. In response, MPI formed Community Partners 4 Peace.

He said the movement encompasses 13 organizations working to stem gun violence in 27 communities. They administer the Metropolitan Peace Academy, an 18-week, 144-hour curriculum led by trained street outreach workers and subject matter experts guided by professional standards.

The MPI model also has behavioral health, workforce development, and civil legal aid components, he said. The goal is to address issues where they most often begin—in the home.

“Imagine a 31-year-old black male who hasn’t finished high school, never had a formal job,“ he said. ”A lot of times they’ve grown up ... with no rules. If we can ... help heal those people, then they’re going to be not only better for their communities, but they’re going to be better for their families, because typically they’re going to have kids as well.”

Dr. Young has been a member of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership for more than 10 years. He said that, true to its name, the group is dedicated to promoting responsible gun ownership.

While he did not attend the hearing, Dr. Young watched it online. He agrees with the witnesses’ assessments and many of the programs outlined. However, he disagrees with Dr. Ranney’s strategy as she outlined it.

“[Public health strategies] include things like developing scientifically based sanitation, water supply, disease suppression interventions on a population basis,” Dr. Young told The Epoch Times.

He said that, unlike a disease that is spread through contagion or unsanitary conditions, violent crime is the result of a personal decision. A person typically has little control over contagious infections, but no one is shot unless someone decides to pull the trigger.

Dr. Robert Young, editor for Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, speaks at the 38th Annual Gun Policy Conference in Phoenix, Ariz., on Sept. 4, 2023. (Michael Clements/The Epoch Times)
Dr. Robert Young, editor for Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, speaks at the 38th Annual Gun Policy Conference in Phoenix, Ariz., on Sept. 4, 2023. (Michael Clements/The Epoch Times)

“Every shooting is an individual matter. It’s a conscious decision in most cases, criminally or by suicide, to pull the trigger at a certain point. And the only intervention possible is with the individual,” Dr. Young said.

However, he said most people who favor a public health approach also push for broad gun control measures, such as bans on certain types of firearms and restrictions on who can possess them.

He said cities like Chicago are examples of the failure of strict gun control laws. Dr. Young said gun control only works if all guns are removed from society. But that wouldn’t address the human element.

“[If] you deprive the population of firearms, that obviously would, if possible, succeed in ending firearms wounds and deaths entirely. Now, from a theoretical construct, it doesn’t fit into public health because firearms aren’t themselves the contagion,” he said.

Amy Swearer is a senior legal fellow with The Heritage Foundation who also testified before the hearing. Like Dr. Young, she said taking a public health tack fails to address the real need.

“A public health framework doesn’t change, for instance, the fact that most gun crimes are perpetrated not by ordinary lawful gun owners but by a small subset of repeat offenders who are already prohibited from owning guns,” she told the hearing.

Ultimately, Dr. Young said, gun control does more harm than good, regardless of why or how it’s implemented. He was encouraged that Dr. Ranney did not call for such bans.

“I was pleased to hear Dr. Ranney emphasize several times that she and her project in Massachusetts do not take a position on banning any firearm or taking them away from people,” Dr. Young said.

Guns Prevent Crime

He pointed out that studies have indicated that guns are used to prevent rather than commit crime.
A 2018 essay posted on the Rand Corporation’s website reports that studies place the number of defensive gun uses between 116,000, which the essay states is likely much too low, and 2.5 million, which the essay indicates is implausibly high.
Regardless of which figure is closest to the truth, either is greater than the number of gun deaths reported annually, which was 48,830 in 2021, according to the Pew Research Center. Dr. Young said he believes the number of defensive gun uses is closer to 1.6 million. So, he believes the statistics make one thing clear.

“The advantages are that they prevent more deaths and injuries than we sustain, period,” Dr. Young said.

In addition, Dr. Young and others say the statistics presented to claim that guns are the number one cause of death in children are misleading.

According to the Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC), the statistics used to back that statement are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which the CPRC says uses homicide data.
These data include murder as well as legally justified self-defense and police deadly force cases.

Guns Not Top Killer of Children

The CPRC reports that much of the data is related to gang activity in high-crime, inner-city areas. In fact, the organization says that if the data from five cities were removed from consideration, the United States would drop from the third highest murder rate to 189 out of 193 globally.

Those cities, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, St. Louis, and New Orleans, have some of the strictest gun laws in the country, yet they account for a majority of the country’s gun crime.

“These deaths are largely gang-related, and even banning guns is unlikely to stop drug gangs from getting a hold of guns to protect their extremely valuable drugs,” the CPRC website reads.

When FBI crime data is used, which tallies only criminal activity, car crashes become the number one killer of people under 18.

According to Dr. Young and Ms. Swearer, programs like those touted by Mr. Bryant and Dr. Franklin Cosey-Gay, director of the Violence Prevention Program at the University of Chicago Medicine, are better plans.

Teaching Skills

Dr. Cosey-Gay testified to how his program reaches out to gunshot victims when they arrive at the emergency room and continues to treat them after they leave.

He said the program connects victims with social service agencies and professionals who can provide assistance designed to steer them away from violence and crime and toward education and better conflict resolution skills.

Steven Cook, a retired deputy attorney general, said any plan must include dealing with criminals.

He told the hearing that recent U.S. Department of Justice policies have “handcuffed” prosecutors. At the same time, local District Attorneys are taking a soft-on-crime approach, which enables violent criminals to commit crimes confident they will spend little if any, time behind bars, Mr. Cook said.

He encouraged the committee to continue funding programs like “Project Safe Neighborhoods.” The program was launched by the Department of Justice in 2001 to deal with violent crime. Mr. Cook said the program has been successful in many areas mainly because it focuses on more than just arresting criminals.

Do More Than Lock Them Up

“It was more than just putting people in prison. We also had a re-entry program, we also had an educational component, we also had a community interface component, so Project Safe Neighborhoods has continued to produce great results across the country varying as high as 41 percent reductions in violent crime,” Mr. Cook said.

Dr. Young said such programs do much more to address the problem of violent crime than banning the tools criminals use or disarming law-abiding. He said the most effective approach is not to treat violence as a disease but rather an issue that people need to understand.

“The population who are the most likely victims of criminal violence using firearms are the same population that are the likely perpetrators. They are urban youths without good role models,” Dr. Young said.

“The only route to make our population safer is through education.”

Michael Clements focuses mainly on the Second Amendment and individual rights for The Epoch Times. He has more than 30 years of experience in print journalism, having worked at newspapers in Alabama, Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma. He is based in Durant, Oklahoma.