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Earlier this month (9/04) in the Washington Post, Mayor Adrian Fenty and Attorney General Linda Singer of the District of Columbia published an op-ed article defending their determination to appeal a lower court's decision that the District's gun laws, passed in 1976 banning handguns, are unconstitutional. 

In the op-ed the Mayor claimed that the laws have "saved lives" as though handguns were some sort of pathogen.  Are handguns a pathogen, an agent which causes a morbid condition?

The father of modern epidemiology was a British physician named John Snow (1813-1858).   During the London cholera epidemic of 1854, Dr. Snow mapped where each victim of the epidemic lived and noted that the deaths were concentrated around a specific point.  He went to that place and found a public water pump on Broad Street. 

After further investigation, including an examination of a sample of water from the pump under a microscope, he determined that there was something in the water that was responsible for spreading cholera.  The consensus among medical authorities at the time was that diseases such as cholera were spread by something called "miasma" or bad air. 

Despite their resistance, Dr. Snow finally persuaded the public authorities to remove the handle from the Broad Street pump.  Immediately, the epidemic ended.

The question that should be before the government of the District of Columbia as it contemplates more than 30 years of an unconscionable slaughter of its citizens is, "Where is the Broad Street pump?"  If handguns were the pathogen, wouldn't the 1976 law have acted like the removal of the Broad Street pump handle?

John Snow arrived at his conclusion by comparing mortality in different neighborhoods.  Perhaps the best way to determine what is going on in the District, using the epidemiological methods of John Snow, would be to compare the District to a jurisdiction with a similar population. 

From 1995, the first year of the F.B.I. Uniform Crime Reports available on-line, through 2005, the latest year for which there are complete records, there were 2,877 people murdered in the District of Columbia.  Compare the District with Vermont, both of which have populations of 600,000.  During that same period, Vermont had only 58 murders.

The first thing that must be obvious is that it  handguns are not the pathogen.  Vermont  has no gun laws.  It is not only lawful to own a handgun in Vermont, it is lawful to carry one, whether openly or concealed, anywhere in the state except on federal property. 

How is it then that Vermont had 2,819 fewer murders over 11 years than the District of Columbia?  What makes the inhabitants of the District of Columbia 4,860% more likely to die from murder than inhabitants of Vermont?  What is the pathogen?

It is not enough to say that the two jurisdictions cannot be compared because Vermont is rural.  This seems to imply that rural people are somehow genetically different from people who live in cities, which is absurd.  Let me suggest that the pathogen, in all probability, is culture.

Look at the social ills that plague the district in addition to the high murder rate.  Handguns do not impregnate young girls.  Handguns to not make fathers abandon their children.  Handguns do not destroy public housing.  Handguns do not cause people to defecate in the stairwells and urinate in the hallways of public housing.  Handguns do not cause people to become addicted to drugs. 

But a toxic, corrosive, culture will permit each of these ills and a host of others as well.

Social ills arise because there are people whose moral values permit them to behave badly.  People with the moral values that make possible civilized life will not behave badly even if they are certain that no one will ever know.  People who lack these values will only behave well if they believe that there will be unpleasant consequences otherwise. 

A morally defective culture is the Broad Street pump which spews forth the toxin which chokes the souls of the children of the District of Columbia.  The District needs a John Snow to persuade the authorities that their belief that hand guns are the problem is as wrong as the belief, by the London authorities, that "miasma" was the cause of cholera. 

Until the new Dr. Snow is found, the Broad Street pump will continue to kill.

Jim Warner is a retired attorney.  He served as a domestic policy advisor to President Ronald Reagan from 1985 until 1989.  Serving as a Marine aviator in Vietnam, his aircraft was shot down over North Vietnam.  His Communist captors held him in the "Hanoi Hilton" and other prisoner-of-war torture camps for 5½ years.