Metzl: We Need a Holistic, Societal (and Expensive) Strategy to Get Benighted Red-Staters to Swallow More Restrictions on Their Gun Rights

Jonathan M. Metzl
Courtesy Vanderbilt University

I’ve come to believe that in the current moment, when democracy itself is at stake, gun safety needs to improve people’s lives in ways that they can see and feel, strengthen the concrete undergirding civil society, and allow blue and red state Americans to imagine broader coalitions based on shared interests rather than on shared anxieties.  

In the long run, gun laws by themselves will have relatively little effect in changing the contours of the American gun debate if they don’t go hand-in-hand with material investments that take seriously people’s safety concerns, and reward community cohesion over armed tribalism. 

Thankfully, a growing body of research combines the insights of public health with methods from urban planning, economics, business, criminology, and sociology to show how gun laws have the greatest effect if joined with investments in lived environment. Fixing streetlights, creating parks and green space, jobs programs, and rebuilding “civic infrastructure,” public safety, and community resiliency can reduce gun crime at rates that supersede those produced by gun laws alone.

While these types of interventions have been tested in blue cities, they are rarely attempted in rural parts of red states like Tennessee. People in these parts of the country often confront public health most visibly in moments of crisis, such as after mass shootings or during pandemics, when they are told to wear masks, get vaccines, or regulate gun sales. Public health can connote restricting freedoms or being forced to comply with mandates, but rarely represents prosperity in ways that are evident in the everyday.

That needs to change. Public health researchers and gun safety advocates could work together across Red-Blue divides to partner with builders, employers, developers, Internet providers, supermarkets, transit experts, and city planners to redefine and construct safe neighborhoods. They could align with local and national businesses to promote ways that gun safety can be pro-growth—such as working with AI developers to reimagine safe parks, workplaces, or schools. They could host grant-writing workshops and reward communities to improve public safety using reinforcement algorithms developed by health insurers.

Reformers could create economic benchmarks to aid mayors and governors based on the work of sociologist Patrick Sharkey, showing how investments in “place” reduce violent crime and enable formerly distressed neighborhoods to prosper.  

These kinds of interventions take at face value the core assumption of many gun-carry arguments—that public spaces should be safe for everyone—and intervene upstream to do so. Few of these interventions involve trying to mandate individual-level behaviors, but instead aim to engage broader categories of shareholders to build what political theorists call “strategy influence” by creating long-term sustainable relationships that provide practical benefits. Deeper attention to financial structures can also counter critiques that public health fails to pay enough attention to economic factors in its interventions.

Again, it’s a travesty that America does not have comprehensive national guns (sic) laws. But interventions long proposed by scholars like me are imperfect—in large part due to the narrow terrain on which we’ve been allowed to even research gun safety, let alone put the policies we propose into practice. Years of funding bans and outright resistance have left us promoting modest interventions to an overwhelmingly complex national scourge.

— Jonathan M. Metzl, MD in Guns Are Not Just a Public Health Problem



4 Responses

  1. If he wants to agree on “common ground”, then accept the constitution for that is the best common ground for We the People.
    “But interventions long proposed by scholars”
    If he is such a scholar, then what is his problem with the U S Constitution?

  2. lets see if this works…..The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument over whether states can keep President Trump off the 2024 Presidential Ballot on the theory that he engaged in an alleged insurrection in January 2021. (note: not specific wording, but basically, SCOTUS questioning, democrat and left wing and state claims of ‘insurrection’ are ‘hearsay’, not evidence, and 14th doesn’t allow states to remove Trump from ballot, and basically, Trump did not commit ‘insurrection’, – even SCOTUS left wing justices leaning towards that – seems Trump will win this one – would be interesting though if they did not rule for Trump for if they did the Red States would be able to remove ALL democrats, even Biden, from any election ballot).

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