What is Public Health? Case: GUNS.

Shooter

I’ll get into the shooting thing a bit further down. Follow my madness. Let me start with:

… Nobody really WANTS to go to the gym. Ya dig? … OK, some people do. Probably something like 6-10% of the population actually enjoys working out, running, or some other form of strenuous activity … I’m in the 90% category.

Apparently this is a problem nowadays. How do I know? Public health specialists told me.

How do they know? Good question!

— See what I did there?


Dude, I don’t even know what you’re talking about:

After the writeup I did on public policy, I decided the next logical step is to explain public health (maybe safety is next?). … Lots of stuff can be considered within the scope of public health. PLUS, this study/profession is far less political than public policy (because it largely analyzes lots of numbers and data) — although one can inform the other.

First off, public health deals with the public — again, obvious.

But more importantly, public health practitioners identify threats to the general health of the overall public. So this is a big thing to comprehend, because it isn’t like your and my health alone; rather, it’s the ENTIRE public’s health — as one coherent entity.

So what are some public health issues? Obesity, AIDs, poverty, mental health, a host of viruses, homelessness, domestic violence, and really anything that could be viewed as a negative within a portion of the public. Public health identifies these issues, evaluates the magnitude of the issue, and proposes and implements solutions. The most well-known agency dealing with this is the CDC (go ATLANTA!).

Public safety, in contrast, devises the routineized (word?) mechanisms that address what happens in emergency situations. So, if something happens, what should happen after that? Also, public health tries to prevent disastrous events from happening to the public (like a bombing or something), and also promotes safety, more boringly (stuff like wearing a helmet while biking and stuff). But an example of a public safety bureaucracy would be Homeland Security (in some aspects), or the Department of Public Health (obviously).


DATA!? GET OUT OF MY FACE!

Naw.

But really, this field is pretty data-intensive. The study is structured this way because LOTS of data is available — unlike a lot of policy studies where the objective is more-difficult to quantify (unless it’s an economic problem … then you can have lots of data).

It’s easier to measure levels of obesity in a given area than it is to measure quality of life, because the definition of ‘quality’ probably varies quite a bit, but obesity is pretty easy to quantify and define. It’s easier to measure how far a pandemic or epidemic has spread than it is to measure overall satisfaction stemming from any given policy. It’s easier to identify what kills the most people in a given area (lots of records) than it is to implement anti-discrimination policies (in the first, you’re simply looking at data; in the second, you’re trying to change people’s minds — which is very difficult to do).

There’s lots of data available for public health research. This data can be ordered and run through some equations to formulate fancy graphs. These graphs, in turn, tell the researcher what matters and what doesn’t.

Data can tell a researcher something like this:

— The more an individual smokes, the higher the likelihood that they get lung cancer.

Can they conclude definitively that the smoking CAUSES cancer? No. BUT they can say that smoking increases the odds that lung cancer COULD occur. How do they know? Because they have lots of data behind that claim, and that is the general consensus from lots of researchers who look at different data.

Mixed Results: Say that 30% of available research says that eating eggs increase the likelihood of a heart attack, but 70% of the studies have mixed results. … The egg conclusion is up in the air.

Maybe it’s eggs combined with hot sauce that’s the deadly combo … I don’t know. The point is that claiming something CAUSES something else to happen is virtually impossible, and studies have different conclusions ALL the time.

In pharmaceutical studies, there are LOTS of experiments in an attempt to isolate what works from what doesn’t. I mean really, when you’re messing with pills, you could kill people — and then end up with a lawsuit. For research, they’ll bring in two groups (you KNOW they all sign waivers) with the same problem. Then they will randomize who gets the treatment, and who gets sugar pills. Then they evaluate which one worked, and which didn’t. They do this lots of times until the government says it’s safe.

To make a claim about health, you need the data to back it up. If it isn’t conclusive among a vast majority of researchers, then there probably isn’t a clear picture of what’s going on. The idea is to isolate what COULD cause what to happen as specifically as possible.

Real-world example:

Something like: “John took Christy to the dance because he thinks Janice is mean.”

That statement implies cause and effect: John thinks Janice is mean (an assumption. And can it safely be made? If so, how do you know?); This, in turn, CAUSED John to go to the dance with Christy instead of Janice.

… How can you prove that causation? I suppose asking him would be the easiest way … but most people don’t do that, and instead they speculate and assume (and stereotype) stuff ALL the time. This, btw, is called gossip.


A PUBLIC HEALTH problem:

I’ll use an example from my own research: GUN deaths.

Yup, I would say that the sheer number of gun deaths in the United States is a public health issue. The probability that I could get shot walking down the street is pretty high when compared to, say, Japan. Also, if I’m a minority or in the wrong part of town, that probability increases EXPONENTIALLY. This means that there is a looming threat around me all the time, essentially. On any given day, it may be a .1% chance of getting shot. However, if I’m black and walking on the southside while wearing red, then I’m probably at like a 25% chance — which is substantial.

The number of gun deaths in any given year is a public health issue, according to me — and lots of other people.

The challenge is identifying a few things. 1) What COULD reduce gun deaths, and 2) how can you prove these measures work?

People have come up with a variety of answers.

Fo’ example: similar to the PR campaign for “preventative” health (working out and going to the doctor more, essentially), many people have proposed an anti-gun PR campaign. The idea is that you delegitimize guns as a viable alternative to lots of things — because there are HUGE problems with guns being used to: resolve disputes (essentially a new-age dueling for gangs and cartels), commit passion crimes against spouses or others (for cheating or something), and are used by professionalized criminals who are generally criminals to escape poverty. There’s also the threat of rebellion or civil conflict/war for the state — which may be good or bad, depending how you view different things. But, I’m generally referring to the United States here.

Again, the cartels, criminals, and other thug-type people probably get their guns illegally, and, again, I have some evidence of that (see my thesis footnotes if you really wanna know). So, a PR campaign probably wouldn’t affect that arms traffic much … which is why the illegal interstate flow (and straw sales) of weapons should probably be targeted before a general information campaign — although information delivery is never a bad idea.

After reviewing a lot of studies and doing some logical thinking, I came to the conclusion that background checks and gun-buyback programs would be pretty inefficient, and so would regulating what types of guns could be sold — because of the Constitution, the cost of the programs, as well as the NRA. Also, people would only give up cheap, broken, or outdated weapons in buyback programs.

But non-uniform gun-buying, trading, and selling standards between states is a HUGE problem (and inconsistency). I would suggest uniform firearm buying, trading, and selling laws between states (so that EVERYONE is on the same page). Also, there needs to be a pretty large increase of targeted local law-enforcement initiatives aimed at reducing the flow of illegal weapons.

Sadly, the standards thing would pretty much require the federal government to come up with something — but the NRA would stop that. So really, all we got is information campaigns and law enforcement. BUT if public support to do something regulatory about guns actually happens, that would be a step forward for public health and safety professionals.

… the mental part of it is also part of public health, but I don’t really know how to address that aspect of it, to be honest.


What about Charleston?

I know you all know who the Charleston shooter is by now. This kid, I’m pretty sure, is NOT mentally ill … like at all. 1) He was a open racist, 2) he knew what he was doing, 3) he did it for political purposes (as confirmed by survivors), and 4) he was capable of planning it all out (as testified by his roommate). Because this kid used fear to induce political change, he was in fact a terrorist; not only that, but he got a weapon LEGALLY.

So, what do you do?

This issue is where public health, security, safety, and policy all intersect.

The fact of the matter is, with the NRA in existence, you can’t even utter the word ‘gun standards’ without the threat of a lawsuit. Second, gun nuts refuse to accept that there is a gun-death problem in the United States — so you have to convince people that there actually is a problem in the world before a solution can be offered.

BUT, I do think public opinion is gradually changing on this issue — especially with each publicized case of extreme gun deaths. These extreme gun-death cases are definitely getting noticed — as with most information, mostly thanks to the internet. The fact is that gun violence has ALWAYS been a part of American society (look at the wild west), but the difference now is that now more people are seeing these extreme cases.

The sad fact is that this kid probably couldn’t have been stopped. The only way it could have been prevented is for early intervention (meaning someone would have had to tell some authority about terrorist planning). But even this alone wouldn’t have resulted in an arrest.

Put on a blacklist, maybe. Watched a bit more closer, maybe. But prevention? The chances are pretty slim. This guy is a domestic terrorist who had the means to commit the crimes he wanted to for a desired political purpose — start a race war (which would NOT happen anyway — we’re past that, extreme racists). Because of the immense amount of personal freedom in the United States, stopping domestic terrorists is extremely difficult — again, for every good that is implemented (individual freedom), there is a necessary evil (people individually committing whatever crime they want).

The everyone-can-have-a-gun law in the United States ensures personal safety … I get the argument NRA nuts. But, I mean really, the more-guns-means-more-safety argument is getting pretty old, and isn’t rooted in any sound logic. The second amendment is one of the few amendments that hasn’t been examined or contextualized.

I get it, we can own guns if we want. But, if we remember, the Declaration of Independence ensured that “all men are created equal,” but that didn’t mean colored people or women — but guess what, we examined that amendment and contextualized it. We even had to add another amendment to ENSURE that slavery ended, and blacks and women could vote (which, btw, was a SLOW development). To say that the second amendment is completely untouchable is a lie, because the Constitution can be interpreted and contextualized to fit modern times. I know this because it’s happened before. Yes, it’s possible to allow people guns while being responsible about it — despite the propaganda otherwise. But, first, the public at large needs to be sold that it’s a worthwhile policy — and that’s the slow, difficult development that must take place.

So, what works and what doesn’t? Public health, policy, and safety all ask the question: What measurably (data) makes a difference in the world? I don’t care what your uncle says, and I don’t care what your dad, mom, friend, professor, or anybody else says will make the world better; what measurably makes a POSITIVE effect for the public AT LARGE?

Get it? Good.


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5 thoughts on “What is Public Health? Case: GUNS.

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