Injuries and deaths from firearms in the U.S. could be reduced by regulating guns like cars, contends David Hemenway, a Harvard public health expert. Hemenway argues that the public would support gun regulations that fall short of bans.
In a Washington, D.C., appearance to promote his new book, “Private Guns, Public Health,” Hemenway made his case that much can be done about a “uniquely American public health problem.” Hemenway directs Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center.
Motor vehicle fatalities per miles driven have dropped 80 percent in recent decades through safety improvements in cars and on roadways under regulations administered by the U.S. Transportation Department, Hemenway noted.
“Very inexpensive policies can make a big difference” in firearms deaths and injuries, too, he said. Among possibilities: childproofing guns, making their serial numbers harder to obliterate, and regulating the secondary market in gun sales. Hemenway said that surveys have shown that Americans, even National Rifle Association members, favor steps like mandatory safety training for gun owners and gun safety standards.
Hemenway called for better data on gun deaths and injuries, which he said is a prerequisite to sound public policies. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is starting a data system on homicides and suicides in 13 states that could serve as the basis for an improved statistical base.
As things stands, the level of lethal violence in the U.S. is setting a bad example for other nations, Hemenway argued. Noting that Mexicans, Canadians, Jamaicans, and others are able to import firearms from the U.S., Hemenway said, “we are not a very good neighbor.” When other countries enact gun conttrols, he said, “What always wins the argument is, ‘Do you want to end up like the United States?’ ”