Violence as a Public Health Issue

Hara Ra (
Wed, 29 Jul 1998 22:54:28 -0700

I'll try this again, hopefully without the topic returning to guns, guns, libetrtarians and guns, which IMO is a thread going nowhere.

Alcoholism was once seen as a moral issue, that the alcoholic was a person of weak moral force, an essentially bad person who could not control themselves. The moral solution was to make alcohol an illegal substance, bring in the cops and the guns. The result was organized crime had a new field to exploit and violence in the manufacture, sale and distribution of alcohol.

When AA was started, a new viewpoint was created, that of alcoholism as a disease, both physically and spiritually. Instead of prohibiting the substance, the treatment became one of medical treatment and counseling. Without attempting to claim or debate whether this is more effective re the problem of alcoholism, it is an approach with less violence.

Ditto of course for the Drug War...

Well, what about violence? Violence is of course criminalized, those prone to it are treated as criminals and morally bankrupt, fodder for punishment. (Note: I am speaking of the violence found in families and on the street, not military actions which is a whole other topic.) My question is:

	What if we looked at violence as a health problem??

Well, a major aspect of public health is to design the environment to be safer. Separate water and sewage, ensure that food is not contaminated, ensure safe water, and these days, eliminate pollution and pesticides.

In the 1950s many public housing projects consisted of tall buildings with long hallways with doors to each apartment and stairwells. Gangs discovered thay could disable the elevators and attack people in the halls and stairwells. This was such a serious problem that eventually most of these buildings were razed. (A few months ago, such a project in San Francisco was demolished.) If a building is built so that all apartments look into a central area, with patios and balconies, so that all traffic to and from apartments is seen from the other apartments, this kind of crime vanishes. This is a public health kind of solution for one kind of violence.

Such solutions are enforced the same way that any other government policy is enforced. First write up the rules, and don't issue permits to scofflaws. Second, don't allocate money to those who will create structures in which volence tends to happen. (Just like the Feds will withold their money from local government unless the local government conforms to the Federal demands.) And, finally, locate the serious nuisances and shut them down.

Note, BTW, that I fully support more libertarian approaches, such as PPLs. However, coercion is a fact of life and especially of governance.

Another aspect of public health is testing for, isolating and treating disease. This can be done to some degree with violence, testing individuals for such tendencies, immunizing them (ie, educating them), etc. How to do this is of course a topic with many implications. Just for fun, here is one possible approach:

All landlords and all lending institutions are by law made degree liable for violence which happens on their property. Homeowners are their own landlords. To be released from this liability is via an examination for violent tendencies. A person who passes this examination is given a certificate which is to be shown to the landlord. Persons not passing the exam may either assume the liability or go in for treatment.

Think about it. If you meet a new sexual partner, do you discuss STDs? Pregnacy control?

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| Hara Ra <> |
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