Private Guns, Public Health

David Hemenway
The first complete picture of the public-health approach to gun violence, and a commonsense plan for ending this American epidemic


On an average day in the United States, guns are used to kill almost eighty people, and to wound nearly three hundred more. If any other consumer product had this sort of disastrous effect, the public outcry would be deafening; yet when it comes to guns such facts are accepted as a natural consequence of supposedly high American rates of violence.

Private Guns, Public Health explodes that myth and many more, revealing the advantages of treating gun violence as a consumer safety and public health problem. David Hemenway fair-mindedly and authoritatively demonstrates how a public-health approach-which emphasizes prevention over punishment, and which has been so successful in reducing the rates of injury and death from infectious disease, car accidents, and tobacco consumption-can be applied to gun violence.

Hemenway uncovers the complex connections between guns and self-defense, gun violence and schools, gun prevalence and homicide, and more. Finally, he outlines a policy course that would significantly reduce gun-related injury and death.

With its bold new public-health approach to guns, Private Guns, Public Health marks a shift in our understanding of guns that will-finally-point us toward a solution.

David Hemenway is Professor of Health Policy at the Harvard School of Public Health, and Director of Harvard's Injury Control Research Center and Youth Violence Prevention Center. A former Pew Fellow on Injury Control, he has been a Senior Soros Justice Fellow and held a Robert Wood Johnson Investigator Award in Health Policy Research.

Praise / Awards

  • "An extremely useful, well-written compilation of research pertinent to public policy on firearms that includes counter-arguments to many ill-reasoned and methodologically flawed 'facts and findings' that underpin current public discourse on this topic."
    —Trudy A. Karlson, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • "The rate of gun-related homicide, suicide and accidental injury has reached epidemic proportions in American society. Diagnosing and treating the gun violence epidemic demands the development of public health solutions in conjunction with legislative and law enforcement strategies."
    —Kweisi Mfume, President and CEO, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
  • "As a former District Attorney and Attorney General, I know the urgency of providing safe homes, schools and neighborhoods for all. This remarkable tour-de-force is a powerful study of one promising solution: a data-rich, eminently readable demonstration of why we should treat gun violence as an American epidemic."
    —Scott Harshbarger, Former Attorney General of Massachusetts, President and CEO of Common Cause
  • "This lucid and penetrating study is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the tragedy of gun violence in America and—even more important—what we can do to stop it. David Hemenway cuts through the cant and rhetoric in a way that no fair-minded person can dismiss, and no sane society can afford to ignore."
    —Richard North Patterson, novelist
  • ". . . a detailed, sober account of the effect of guns on society. . . . [Hemenway] compares the public health problems created by firearms with those of tobacco and alcohol . . . . [and] calls for a public health approach to firearms that 'is not about banning guns but is about creating policies that will prevent violence and injuries.'"
    —John Langone, New York Times
  • ". . . Hemenway makes a compelling case that using a public health approach to gun-related injuries in this country is the best way to reduce death and injuries. . . . Private Guns, Public Health is essential reading for those interested in gun injury and death in the United States. Public health officials, legislators, proponents of injury prevention, and health care professionals could all benefit from reading this book. The author has integrated what is known about firearm injuries into one easy-to-read source. "
    Journal of Emergency Nursing
  • "[Hemenway's] book is the first to synthesize the findings in this new field and to reference other literature as well. . . . Scholars will appreciate the author's logical caution in drawing inferences from the evidence, as well as the methodologic appendix and superb bibliography. Yet the book is highly readable and will serve advocates and other interested citizens as an accessible, comprehensive briefing on the relevant statistics and arguments. . . . The public health approach rests on the optimistic belief that good science will engender good policy and practice. Optimism is a scarce commodity in the area of gun policy. Private Guns, Public Health supplies reasons to hope."
    New England Journal of Medicine
  • "Hemenway has written an accessible and compelling research brief that places the burden of proof squarely on the shoulders of those opposed to the policy reforms he discusses. . . . One does not have to endorse his interpretation of the current research literature to agree that improved surveillance of unintentional firearm injuries, suicides, and homicides would help determine whether the lives saved and injuries averted are worth the monetary and symbolic costs of stricter gun control."
    Journal of the American Medical Association
  • ". . . a brilliant and clear-eyed primer for the country."
    —Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times

Look Inside

Copyright © 2004, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

News, Reviews, Interviews

Recommended Reading List | FiveThirtyEight
Interview | Al Jazeera English
Review | Daily Beast

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 16 tables, 3 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2004
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11405-4

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  • $40.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2007
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03162-7

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  • $23.95 U.S.

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