Professor Presents Gun Violence Research at Health Law Workshop

Posted on: October 15, 2019 Topics: faculty honors, gun violence, guns

Michael Ulrich, assistant professor of health law, ethics & human rights, was selected to present his research on gun violence and public health law at the 2019 Health Law Scholars Workshop, sponsored by the American Society of Law, Medicine and Ethics and the Saint Louis University Law School Center for Health Law Studies. Ulrich and three other scholars presented their research at the workshop from September 12-14 at the Saint Louis University School of Law in St. Louis, Mo.

Held annually, the Health Law Scholars Workshop encourages health law and bioethics scholarship and fosters professional development among emerging scholars. During a two-hour session last month, Ulrich received in-depth critiques and advice on his work-in-progress from scholars and peer reviewers in health law and bioethics.

“It’s a really great experience to have your ideas challenged,” says Ulrich. “They want you to succeed but they also want to make sure that the things you’re putting out there are sound. It makes you question some of your assumptions—or even recognize the assumptions that you didn’t realize were assumptions.”

Ulrich’s paper, titled “Public Carry, Public Health,” applies the public health law framework he developed to a specific Second Amendment question—the right to carry firearms in public. He argues that legal analysis needs to balance an individual’s right to carry a firearm for protection with the state’s authority to limit individual rights to help reduce risk and protect public health and safety.

Similar to how policymakers treat vaccination rates as an issue of public health and safety, Ulrich says it could be worthwhile to view the issue of gun violence as a disease threatening the health of communities.

“If we had this contagious disease that was spreading, and more and more people were dying, people would be upset if the government didn’t step in to do something,” he says.

Ulrich hopes that by framing gun violence as a public health problem and bolstering the public health law framework, he can change how the legal field analyzes these laws and informs how policymakers think about laws that implicate Second Amendment rights.

—Madeline Bishop

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One comment

  1. The epidemic/contagion model for gun violence confuses host and vector. A viral vector seeks to maximize reproductive efficiency through a senseless host, whose normal habits and behaviors potentiate dissemination of the vector and infection of the host species. Guns, a tool created by humans, have no evolutionary mechanism. Humans evolved to make tools, including guns, and employ them by free choice rather than as senseless hosts of these metal, wood and plastic vectors. Trying to define guns by a health care model with the purpose of bringing them under regulation overlooks the disagreement under the professions studying criminal violence. While health care professionals largely support gun controls as the most effective measure to address criminal violence, other professionals, including economists, criminologists and sociologists, disagree with the health care/disease model. In fact, economists and criminologists find many of the gun laws and policies that health care professionals support as solutions to be ineffective or deleterious. This contrary position seems incredible when viewed from the current health care perspective – guns are made to kill, so how can regulating them *not* be the answer, let alone be counterproductive? Even the lower estimates of defensive guns uses exceeds the combined homicide and suicide rate, with most accepting rates several times higher. Creating laws that target criminal violence without reducing the beneficial use of guns in defense, wherein shots are rarely fired, poses a challenge, as criminals and non-criminals display differential compliance with laws. To extend the health care analogy, enacting misdirected gun laws and policies can be like trying to combat a viral infection with antibiotics. Incorrect diagnosis and treatment of disease has a medical disorder name, iatrogenic disease, and accounts for hundred of thousands of deaths yearly in the US. Incorrect diagnosis and treatment of criminal violence by implementing poorly conceived gun laws and policies risks increasing that toll.

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