Lawmakers should treat gun violence as public health concern

Michael Jensen

In 1965, nearly half of Americans smoked, and tobacco companies spent hundreds of millions of dollars to keep it that way. But things got better, and today, only 17.8 percent of adults are smokers and tobacco regulation is heralded as a public health victory.

In 2015, the U.S. is confronted with yet another public health crisis — gun violence. Guns kill far fewer Americans than tobacco, but are still a leading cause of preventable death. But unlike tobacco, firearms have not been treated as a public health issue. Ideology, not science, currently dictates our gun policies. Campus carry, which allows concealed handguns on campus, has inflamed political passions left and right. Regardless of the politics behind campus carry, the proven science of public health must guide UT’s working group recommendations. In particular, America’s existing tobacco policies should serve as a model for the implementation of campus carry.

Gun ownership, like smoking, poses serious risks to oneself and others. The working group must address this. Professor of integrative biology David Hillis said he believes an evidence-based approach is essential when addressing public health concerns.

“We turn to medical experts for medical advice, to lawyers for advice on the law, and to engineers for advice on engineering.” Hillis said “If we ignore science when it comes to public health, our society suffers as a result.”

In the U.S. there are 42 million smokers and, literally, more guns than people. Obviously, prohibition isn’t practical. However, considering the risks involved, a laissez-faire approach isn’t prudent. Public health measures such as tobacco taxes and non-smoking areas have reduced smoking-related deaths worldwide, and similar measures could do the same for gun violence on college campuses. 

Few believe hospital smoking bans infringe on their god-given rights because in certain settings, smoking simply poses an unacceptable risk to others. UT is a tobacco-free campus for precisely this reason. As with smoking, some settings, such as college classrooms, are inappropriate for guns. UT faculty agree, recently passing a resolution opposing guns in classrooms. 

In addition to health and safety concerns, campus carry would cost the UT System $39 million, funds which could have been spent on research or lowering tuition. Tobacco taxes show us how UT could cover some of the costs. A fee paid by concealed carriers would allow UTPD to monitor guns on campus, while reducing the financial burden of campus carry for students who oppose it. If commuters have to pay for parking privileges, it’s reasonable to ask concealed carriers to help cover the costs of campus carry. 

Regardless of which recommendations are sent to President Gregory Fenves, it’s impossible to please everyone. We need an effective compromise to implement campus carry, and if we place safety above politics, the proven success of America’s tobacco policies can guide us to it.

Jensen is a neuroscience junior from Houston. Follow him on Twitter @michaeltangible.