A week after the murderous fusillade in Aurora, Colorado, not one public health official has stepped forward to call for gun control.
Attribute the 9 deaths and dozens of injuries in Aurora to the rash act of an unbalanced man if you wish. But what about the tens of thousands of other deaths caused by firearms in the U.S. each year?
If HIV infection (9,406 deaths in 2011) and painkiller overdose (estimated at 15,000 deaths per year, according to a report by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) are public health problems worth discussion, why not firearms? In 2009, the last year for which complete data are available, there were 31,347 deaths by firearm in the US, according to the US National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
At The Pump Handle, Celeste Monforton — always worth reading — provides the data showing how out-of-scale America’s gun problem is on the global public health scene: Our gun-violence death rates are an order of magnitude higher than those of other wealthy nations.
At CNN, Daniel Webster calls for America to wake up to the public health problem of guns. “America’s high rate of gun violence is shameful,” Webster writes. “When will we change?”
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg can be a tyrant when it comes to personal habits that he thinks impair the city’s health, but he has been courageously forthright on the need to control firearms.
But, like me, Monforton and Webster are academics. And Mike Bloomberg is, well, Mike Bloomberg.
Where are the health officials?
Kathleen Sibelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, has been silent. She’s been vocal on healthcare fraud, and earlier this week announced a new public-private partnership to keep people with AIDS in care. But not a word on guns.
Thomas Frieden, CDC director, can’t be accused of shying from the spotlight. But he has said nothing about guns.
Under these corrupt officials, gun violence has been cleaned from the public health radar screen.
Try finding an entry on firearm violence at the Department of Health and Human Services website. Or, go to the CDC’s “A-Z Index” (what other letters would bound an index, one wonders? well, anyway…). There’s no entry for “guns” or “gun violence.” Nor for “firearms.” The entry on “violence” leads to a page on injury prevention that includes links to entries on Elder Maltreatment and Intimate Partner Violence — but not a word on guns.
At Salon, Alex Seitz-Wald wonders whether the NRA has suppressed research. There’s some evidence for this: Paul Helmke of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence wrote to Secretary Sibelius over a year ago, asking whether it’s true that Frieden’s CDC has agreed to tip off the NRA when researchers who receive CDC monies are going to publish anything on gun violence.
Seitz-Wald might well be perfectly right. Certainly, the NRA is unseemly, manipulative, and morally vacuous. But it doesn’t have the power to program anyone’s thoughts. It doesn’t cause our officials to be spineless in the face of the infestation of American homes and streets — and movie theaters, schools, colleges, and so on — by guns.
No, it can only be that Frieden and Sibelius — and a tremendous host of less prominent health officials — are all silent about guns because, really, they aren’t concerned about 31,000 deaths and upward of 400,000 injuries from firearms each year. Or, not as concerned about the carnage as they are about their jobs.
It’s self-evident that our health officials don’t care about the real health of Americans nearly as much as they do about their own continuation as officials. More important than saving lives or limbs, apparently, is the officials’ capacity to mount the bully pulpit in order to decry other dreadful scourges. Like big cups of soda, defrauding the insurance companies, or not exercising.
Our public health officials: put to the test, and found to be feckless at core.