Leave aside the fever-pitched bickering about gun control—all the condescending talk of hicks clinging to guns and the machismo stubbornness of prying a pistol from somebody’s cold dead hands. Instead, imagine a new approach: What if illegal guns were treated like pollution and gun violence like a public health problem?
The Johns Hopkins Public Health Magazine spotlights this tack, launched by the university’s Center for Gun Policy and Research, in its fall 2008 issue:
When a community knows that its water and land are being poisoned by effluent from a chemical factory, or its air is being rendered foul by smokestacks, it goes after those polluters to protect the health of its people. The approach taken by the epidemiologists, public health experts and lawyers at the Center for Gun Policy and Research is the same: “Where are these guns coming from? It’s not like they spontaneously generated in the forest—‘Oh look, a baby gun!’” says Stephen Teret, [the center’s founder]. “The loading docks of the gun manufacturers are the point sources of this pollution.”
The center uses a mixed staff of lawyers, epidemiologists, researchers, and policy experts to deploy a battery of strategies ranging from legal challenges to legislative advocacy to hardcore data-sifting to working with state and local officials to track illegal gun dealers.