A quick follow to my column in Friday’s Baltimore Sun about the dangers created by the presence of a gun in the home or just about anywhere . . . .
Just for the sake of the argument — or because I hate to think that anything within our control is hopeless — I compare the gun problem in America to cigarette smoking. I’m not the first to make this comparison, but I think there’s something worth considering here.
Once upon a time, there were so many smokers, we never thought it could be any other way. Life in America was cloaked in smoke in the years before smoking bans or, further back, before the U.S. Surgeon General’s report (1964) that warned of the increased risk of lung cancer from smoking. The American Lung Association estimates that 42% of Americans smoked in 1965. Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that only 12% of Americans smoke. That’s a span of nearly 60 years, but you get my point: Something we thought would never change did, in fact, change.
Before the Surgeon’s General’s 1964 report, a Gallup Survey found that 44% of Americans believed smoking caused cancer. By 1968, 78% believed so. In just a few years it had become common knowledge that smoking damages health. Generations have rejected tobacco; smoking is no longer ingrained in American culture.
I realize that gun owners believe guns save lives — that guns are, so to speak, good for their health. Few acknowledge what several studies have shown: Guns are far more likely to be used in homicides and suicides than in self-defense, and the states with the most guns and the most liberal gun laws have the most gun deaths.
These studies have been done by private institutions, not the CDC. However, the CDC is once again funding research into gun violence after a prohibition imposed by Congress in 1996 with the so-called Dickey Amendment. If that research were to confirm what earlier studies showed, and if the CDC and Surgeon General both issued warnings and recommendations as the Surgeon General of 1964 did — and if, as we all expect, gun violence continues at its current pace — we could see change. Already majorities of Americans say they want to see more gun control, not less. The continuation of mass shootings and the widely reported deaths of people gunned down by mistake, particularly in suburban areas of the country, is bound to move that needle higher.
What’s needed is a big awakening — I know: it should have happened already — and steady messaging against the ownership of guns. Americans gave up smoking because it was bad for their health and the health of people around them. Why not guns? What is this madness besides a public health crisis?
One thought on “Cigarettes are bad for your health. So are guns.”
Good points. We have also changed behavior with regard to wearing of seatbelts, which has gone from never to sometimes to almost always. Integration and racial equality is another area in which great strides have been made since I was born. But, some things, like abandoning guns and adopting the metric system, seem far out of reach.
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