Gun Safety vs. Gun Control: Reframing the Conversation

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By: Susan Morrel-Samuels, MA, MPH, MI-YVPC Managing Director

Most of us are familiar with some of the steps that have led to greater safety on our highways. Air bags, seat belts, strict penalties for drunk driving, graduated drivers’ licensing, and better road design are examples of successful highway safety strategies.  As a result, rates of death from automobile crashes in the United States have declined dramatically in the last decades, despite large increases in the numbers of cars and miles driven.


These measures work because they conform to key principles of injury prevention: they separate the person from the hazard (guard rails prevent drivers from crashing into oncoming traffic), they reduce the lethality of the hazard (air bags cushion passengers from impact), or they change social norms about hazardous behavior (drunken driving is seen as unacceptable).

I believe it will advance our discussion about the best ways to reduce firearm deaths and injuries, if we frame the issue as one of safety, rather than of “gun control” versus “gun rights”.  After all, we don’t think of the many policies that affect driving as “car control”.

Measures to prevent firearm deaths that are currently under consideration correspond to the same injury prevention principles as those that have served us well in highway safety.   For example, limiting the size of ammunition clips reduces the lethality of the weapon.  Safe storage of guns separates children in a household from hazardous objects.  Requiring universal background checks sends a clear social message that those with criminal histories or mental conditions that make them a danger to themselves or others should not possess firearms.  These are all common sense strategies for gun safety that are consistent with the science of injury prevention.

Rigorous research is necessary to help us determine the effectiveness of measures such as these.  We can reduce the terrible toll of firearm deaths and injuries by applying the injury prevention principles that have saved hundreds of thousands of lives on our highways.  Gun safety is everyone’s responsibility.