Persuasion and the Public Health Approach to Gun Violence

The U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, has officially declared gun violence to be a public health crisis. This occurred after telling Congress he had no intention of using his office as a bully pulpit to push an agenda. While serving under the Obama administration, Murthy was part of an organization called Doctors for Obama that was instrumental in the push to get Obamacare passed into law. It was during this time that the plan to declare gun violence a medical crisis was being formulated as Murthy, along with the American Medical Association, used that narrative to push Congress to pass universal background checks, assault weapon bans, and Red Flag Laws. Declaring gun violence as a public health crisis means treating the problem the same way they would any other public health issue. Mainly, it entails researching methods to reduce so-called gun violence. From their perspective, the only way to do that is to reduce the number of guns in the United States through “common sense” gun legislation. Common sense is the one thing lacking when it comes to gun control because the left would have us believe that being disarmed and helpless is the best way to stay safe in a world where gun violence is so out of control, that they must declare it a public health crisis. Even the CDC admits that firearms are used for legitimate self-defense purposes up to two million times a year. How many more people would have been killed in acts of violence had these individuals not been armed, and ready to act in their defense? The public health narrative is being used as testing grounds to push their agenda, whether it can be passed legitimately through Congress, or not. Last year, New Mexico Governor Michelle Grisham banned the legal carry of firearms under the guise of the same narrative. She stated that no right in the constitution is without limits, and as governor, she has the absolute authority to suspend any constitutional right during an emergency. In one meeting with lawmakers, she even acknowledged that criminals would not comply with the bans. With the Surgeon General making this public declaration, it is likely that soon, we will see more attempts at the local level to push more unconstitutional actions that they would otherwise, be unable to pass.

Using the public health narrative means, among other things, taking a scientific approach that entails defining the problem, identifying risk and protection factors, developing and testing prevention strategies, and, ensuring widespread adoption of proven reforms. They are defining the problem as the Second Amendment itself. Easy access to firearms has been an argument we have heard from the left for several years. They do not believe people have a right to own a firearm, and being able to walk into a gun store and buy an AR-15 is something that eats away at their very last nerve. Risk and protection factors include people under 21 being able to purchase a rifle, buying a firearm privately without a background check, people with mental health issues acquiring a firearm, and again, the easy accessibility to firearms. Developing and testing prevention strategies would include things like Michelle Grisham’s attempt to ban the legal carry of firearms in the name of public health, Red Flag Laws, and the passage of legislation like the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which attempts to redefine what it means to be in the business of selling firearms. Ensuring the adoption of proven reforms, of course, means passing gun control whenever they get the opportunity to do so. Murthy’s advisory not only calls for policies like universal background checks and assault weapon bans but also advocates for the means to remove firearms from those who are considered a danger to themselves or others, and creating safer conditions in public when it comes to the legal carry of firearms. This means enacting Red Flag Laws and making it more difficult for law-abiding Americans to exercise their constitutional rights.

David Hemenway and Matthew Miller argue in their article, Public Health Approach to the Prevention of Gun Violence, published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2013, that taking a public health approach generally means focusing on prevention “usually as far upstream as possible,” (Hemenway & Miller, 2013). This means looking into the future and enacting policies that will presumably work to prevent gun violence for up-and-coming generations. They also argue that taking a systems approach is more effective than focusing on individual actions because by changing the environment they can influence the way people behave, and the likelihood that anyone will be able to act in a way that leads to gun violence. In other words, change the environment so that guns are illegal, and you will reduce violent crime. This is fascinating because B.F. Skinner wrote in Science and Human Behavior that the way to control and predict human behavior was to first, control the environment in which people are behaving. Banning guns to reduce violence is a ridiculous assertion because the laws that gun controllers seek to pass will only make the law-abiding more vulnerable to those who have no value for human life. They would have the gullible public believe that passing a law is all it takes to keep everyone safe from crime. If that was the case, would there be any crime at all? After all, murder is already illegal and no matter how many laws they pass, murderers will still commit murder.

Hemenway and Miller also argue that a system of shared responsibility is necessary under the public health approach. They state that people who refuse to give up their rights in the name of public safety should be blamed when a mass shooter shoots up a public place with an AR-15. This is a public health frame that is being used to change people’s attitudes towards the topic. An article written by a man named Daniel Hayes entitled, I am an AR-15 owner and I have had enough is an attempt at changing social norms by portraying a man having second thoughts about gun ownership in response to a recent shooting. The goal is to play on the emotions of people who on one hand, may be gun owners, but on the other, are not heavily invested enough in the philosophy behind the Second Amendment to stay rooted in their beliefs. (Die-hard Second Amendment supporters affectionately refer to these sorts of people as Fudds.) For example, according to an article entitled Guns, Culture, or Mental Health? Framing Mass Shootings as a Public Health Crisis, the targeted audiences of such messaging are generally those who, and I quote, “are sophisticated enough to understand the message, but not sophisticated enough to know how or why to refute it.” They are deliberately creating messages meant to target those individuals who can be politically swayed into accepting more gun control in the name of public safety because they are unable to refute the way the argument is being framed. Unfortunately, studies have shown that the public safety frame holds more appeal than personal liberty to a higher percentage of people. According to an article entitled Persuasion in 140 characters: Testing issue framing, persuasion, and credibility via Twitter and online news articles in the gun control debate, messages framed from a public safety point of view hold more credibility and have more of a persuasive effect than those that are framed from the personal liberty perspective.  This was a study conducted on Twitter to examine the effects of persuasive messaging. While it can be noted that pro-gun groups played a key role in drawing attention to and driving the conversation, it was the anti-gun groups that were more successfully able to achieve persuasion among the targeted audience. Why? The messages were viewed as being more genuine, denoting a legitimate concern for the safety of society. An intent of goodwill is always seen as more credible, whereas the pro-gun side’s appeals to personal liberty may come across as being more selfish when the driving beliefs of the targeted audience revolve around guns being dangerous, to begin with. Not only that, public schools are inundating children with anti-gun messages being framed around the persistent danger of mass shootings. Children are growing up afraid of guns. From that perspective, it is only a matter of time before society willingly surrenders its firearms in the name of public safety.

The public health approach to gun violence is more than what it appears it be. They have been studying this as a strategy for over a decade and they know that public safety is more of a concern to most people than individual liberty. This was something that was reinforced during Covid. People were more than willing to surrender their freedom for the false illusion that government interventions would keep them safe. Covid was likely used as a means to gauge people’s responses to public safety messaging, and their willingness to adopt recommended interventions so that the government would be able to take the same approach with so-called gun violence. Now that this public advisory has been issued, everything will be viewed from this perspective when it comes to future legislation and policy recommendations from Washington D.C., to your local government, and possibly even the W.H.O. pandemic treaty.

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