Writing in JAMA, a group of researchers say the way to curb gun violence is to treat guns as a public health awareness issue, the way we do awareness campaigns against cigarettes and drunk driving.

So media, celebrities and the public should "de-glorify" guns the same way, though the efficacy of the campaigns they list is suspect.  In movies, directors now make sure the edgy, rebellious person smokes, in order to show how edgy and rebellious they are. And marijuana use is actually being encouraged in lots of the same states that ban cigarettes in bars despite billions of dollars in awareness campaigns about the dangers of drugs.

Regardless of the questionable success versus cost metric of prior campaigns, they state that a similar effort "could justifiably equate gun violence with weakness, irrationality, and cowardice" and reduce its glorification in movies, television, and video games.  Media certainly has a profound impact on culture, and that has to include violence. A Super Bowl ad spot isn't going for $4 million because the media doesn't influence people.  But not everyone runs out and buys a car because it was in a Super Bowl ad, just like not everyone who watches a movie with guns will kill people. Expensive Super Bowl ads about gun safety would be rather pointless, since there is no evidence that would keep evil sociopaths from killing someone.

Yet the JAMA piece, for its misconceptions, is at least a refreshing change from the mainstream media efforts extolling new efforts to ban guns - journalists have gone out of their way to ignore the fact that every one of these high-profile shooters in the last 20 years has been on some kind of psychiatric medication, presumably because they don't want to demonize the mentally ill. Instead, the retreaded meme they provide for us has been 'a horrible tragedy occurred and you had nothing to do with it, but give up your guns'. Similar moralizing is being done by celebrities who glorify gun culture when someone cuts them a check, using the 'it is my job, it is art, not what I believe' hypocritical blanket. Here's an example of teary, somber celebrities telling us how evil guns are and reciting the tragedies, interspersed with scenes of them using guns in their movies (the movies these anti-gun actors make are pretty graphic, and so are the clips).

Wouldn't it be revolutionary - shocking, even - if we took all the money we could be spending on lawsuits over pointless, feel-good legislation or awareness campaigns that guns can kill people if we let sociopaths have them, and instead actually used it to help the one demographic that is consistent in every one of these shootings; the mentally ill. That seems like a no-brainer. With more money devoted to the real public health aspects of violence - mental illness - we wouldn't need to pretend a .223 is an "assault weapon" or that more background checks will cure evil.

But the authors aren't doing themselves any favors, or us, by massaging the statistics to make their case - they note 30,000 'deaths' per year involving guns but don't point out that gun use in suicides is 160% of gun use in homicides.  It is charming to think that gun awareness campaigns will stop suicide but that is not going to pass muster among an intelligent audience - an intelligent audience goes right back to mental health funding. Almost as many people suffocate themselves to death as are murdered involving guns and 'gun homicide' statistics include criminals who are shot by the police, which is not really the same thing as murder due to  Hollywood gun culture.

Some gun deaths are accidents so lumping those in with 'deaths due to guns' feels vaguely dishonest. Maybe awareness can lessen those, but again, at what cost?  Would not the same money save far more lives doing awareness campaigns for poison, where there are 3X as many accidental deaths as there are gun murders each year?  Or automobile safety, 3.5X as many each year as gun murders?  Even alcohol kills 2.5X as many people as guns, without even including drunk driving deaths.

Why are the lives of people lost to gun deaths so much more important than people who die due to cars and poisoning?  If we want to save lives, all murders combined are way down at number 15 of the greatest mortality issues people face each year, a paltry 0.7 percent of the ways Americans die annually. And guns are a fraction of that.  The rifles that politicians and activists want to ban kill fewer people each year than hammers and even fists. Yes, we could save more people by banning hammers than we could by vilifying rifles. Are people who club someone to death not mentally ill?

Regardless of the real data,  lead author Dariush Mozaffarian, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, said in their statement,  "Gun violence is a public health crisis, and addressing this will require a comprehensive, multi-dimensional public health strategy"  

No, a multi-dimensional health strategy is actually a terrible idea, because it siphons money from efforts that could actually help into feel-good fallacies for political soundbites, like 'gun awareness' initiatives politicians can take credit for. Spend the money on mental health care.

The rest of their paper is the kind of thing you expect from out-of-touch academics. Slap a new tax on guns and ammunition, they say, to more accurately reflect the true societal costs of gun ownership. What are those costs compared to the millions of other ways people die each year?  There is no metric for 'true societal cost of guns' ... the Newtown shooting was done by a mentally ill man whose single mother had weapons for home defense.  What is the societal cost of single mothers being helpless against criminals?  One of the authors is funded by the Joyce Foundation, which lists gun control as one of its goals. But they must realize shooting spree gun violence would be prevented by addressing mental health. Psychiatric medication, as noted, has been a common denominator.

Other recommendations are common sense - better safety.  Is there any safety issue that has not been addressed that can be addressed by a top down approach?  Putting a whole bunch of new taxes on people to pay for safety measures some people are not going to use is just silly.

"For common products like cigarettes, cars, and guns, many individuals, groups, and institutions need to become involved. As 'friends don't let friends drive drunk,' similarly friends should help ensure that a friend going through a psychological crisis doesn't have ready access to a firearm until the crisis is over," economist David Hemenway, author of "Private Guns, Public Health" and professor of health policy at Harvard School of Public Health who co-authored the editorial, said in their statement. He also once blamed the 'road rage' epidemic we once had on gun ownership. So California's gun violence plummeting while gun sales doubled in the last 10 years must really be puzzling him. 

And we need an economist to tell us someone having a mental crisis should not have access to a gun?  Why isn't this economist instead adding up the 'true societal cost of mental health' rather than using a tragedy to advance his pet cause? 
I imagine the advertising heads are spinning with ideas right about now, especially with the prospect of billions of dollars in 'awareness' taxpayer dollars flowing to them.

To save time, here are some campaign suggestions for them:

Only Guys Who Wear Mullets Like To Use Bullets

Raise Ugly Daughters. Dads With Pretty Daughters Shoot More People 

I Won't Say Yes If You Own An SKS

"I Know You're Upset" Works As Well As A Gun For Self-Defense

Owning A Gun Makes You Dangerous, Just Like Owning a Guitar Makes You A Rock Star

By all means add your own in a comment.

Citation: Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH; David Hemenway, PhD; David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD, 'Curbing Gun Violence: Lessons From Public Health Successes', JAMA. 2013;():1-2. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.38