Cigarette smoking. Sun bathing. Driving without a seat belt. Owning a gun? Stanford medicine and law professor David Studdert thinks more public health evidence is needed before cultural attitudes around gun safety and violence will change.
"There are questions in the world of gun safety we really don't have good answers to," Studdert said. "For example, what are the risks imposed on others in the household when a male -- it's usually a male -- chooses to buy a gun? If you think about smoking, one of the things that blew open tobacco control and tobacco policy was understanding the decision to smoke imposed risk and damage to others."
Studdert appeared on a recent episode of World Class, the podcast from the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, to talk about gun safety and gun violence with host Michael McFaul, PhD, director of FSI.
Nearly 40,000 people were killed in the United States in 2017, with 60 percent of those deaths due to suicide, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 55 million Americans are gun owners, Harvard and Northeastern researchers found.
While most American gun owners think guns make them safer, Studdert said research shows the opposite: The presence of a gun in the house actually increases the risk of homicide and suicide.
"There's a mismatch between public attitudes and beliefs and motivations and what the evidence is telling us about firearm risk," he said. "That's what drew me to this area -- studying that paradox."
As a public health researcher, Studdert takes an agnostic view of gun ownership, preferring to use the term "gun safety" over "gun control."
"It's an instrument of danger, at some level, so we try to take precautions in society to try to prevent those hazards."
Photo by Jp Valery