A group of intellectuals at Harvard held a panel on the public health crisis of gun violence. Is gun violence really a public health crisis? How do we address this crisis? I did some research of my own and will present it to you here with my conclusion.

In the panel discussion,  professor of health policy and management at Harvard School of Public Health David Hemenway “suggested that the country attack the firearms problem in a manner similar to that used in previous decades for the public-health problems of smoking and auto deaths. ”

“The United States has a horrific gun problem,” Hemenway asserted at the forum. “Compared to other developed countries, we have the most guns, the weakest gun laws, and so many more homicides.” He noted that an American child had 13 times the likelihood of being murdered by a gun as a child in other developed countries. “God forgive us,” he said, “if we do nothing and allow our children to die.”

The CDC reports number of deaths for leading causes of death:

  • Heart disease: 599,413
  • Cancer: 567,628
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 137,353
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,842
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 118,021
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 79,003
  • Diabetes: 68,705
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,692
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 48,935
  • Intentional self-harm (suicide): 36,909

It’s also interesting to note that 39,147 people died of drug-induced causes and 24,518 people died of alcohol induced causes during the same reporting year.

FBI data shows that in 2011, firearms were used in 8,583 (67.8%) of the 12,667 homicides, 146,366 (41.3%) of the 354,396 robberies, and in 159,240 (21.2%) of the 751,131 assaults. Of the 1,118,194 violent crimes the FBI has weapon data on, 314,189 (28.1%) of those were committed with a firearm. The data also shows a continual downward of trend of 15.7% in violent crime since 2007.

Does that really constitute a public health crisis? And if so, how do we solve it? Let’s look to a city riddled with gun crime. Let’s look to Chicago.

In Chicago, guns were used in 362 of the nation’s 8,583 homicides. Chicago’s share of gun related homicides is 4.2%. Gun crime in Chicago increased last year to over 500 homicides. This increase occurred with no mass shootings and in contrast to the downward trend experienced by the rest of the nation.

The US Census Bureau estimates the total US population for the same year at 311,587,816 total people. Chicago’s population for the same year was estimated at 2,707,120. During that year, Chicago’s share of the population was 0.87%.

Chicago’s share of gun crime for the year 2011 was nearly five times its share of the population for the same year.

But where does this gun crime come from? Chicago has had some of the most strict gun control laws of the past decade. Chicago’s city-wide gun ban was ended only a year prior in McDonald vs Chicago. Gun ownership is still heavily regulated making legal ownership very difficult. During the same year, the entire state of Illinois banned carry of firearms. That ban ended last year in Shepherd vs Madigan.

How does the rest of the country experience a downward trend in all crime while Chicago does not? Why is a disproportionate amount of gun crime occurring in Chicago? What is the rest of the country doing that Chicago is not?

The rest of the country is not empowering criminals like Chicago.

NICS background checks have been steadily increasing since 2005. With the exception of one year, the number of background checks increased by more than 10%.  In the last three years, 50,456,870 background checks were performed for the purpose of purchasing and carrying firearms.

The number of people with concealed carry permits and the number of states allowing concealed carry have also been increasing. In 1987 only 9 states had “shall-issue” concealed carry laws. A “shall-issue” law is one in which the issuing authority is required to issue a permit to an applicant based on criteria as opposed to a “may issue” law where there is no requirement that the issuing authority actually issue any permit. This year, all states will have some sort of concealed carry permitting provision allowing citizens to carry concealed firearms outside the home. The states that do publish the number of permits issued are seeing increases in the number of active permits that closely track NICS background checks. Indeed some of the checks are performed to the purpose of permit applications.

While correlation is not causation and we may never fully understand the reason crime exists, we cannot ignore the impact that concealed carry has on crime. Where the law-abiding citizen is allowed to own and carry firearms, crime trends down. Research by Dr John Lott, Gary Kleck, James Wright, Peter Rossi and a bevy of other academics, criminologists, and economists confirm what is otherwise not rocket-surgery.

So, if we really do have a gun crime public health crisis, the cause is government restriction. The national conversation the President’s gun violence task force needs to include this idea. Instead of a discussion how we can regulate gun violence away, let’s ask how we can de-regulate it away.