In the gun debate, the "criminals will get guns and gun deaths will occur no matter what" argument is one that I hear often. This type of personal responsibility and pro-deregulation and small government argument is widely espoused by the Republican Party when it comes to public health issues. It is also wrong. There is extensive social science data demonstrating that policy interventions -- namely, regulation -- make for a healthier, safer society.
In 2011, The Nation described that the Republican Party "launched an unprecedented antiregulation campaign in Washington, with the goal of with the goal of blocking new safeguards against corporate wrongdoing and rolling back environmental, health, financial and other regulatory protections" in addition to aiming to reduce the penalties corporations can face for wrongdoing (financial crisis, anyone?).
After Republican senators threatened to filibuster background checks, it seems that the only things the GOP does want regulated in our country are abortion, who you can marry, and what sexual practices you engage in.
Mississippi is an example of the full-blown personal responsibility Republican doctrine at its very worst and the consequences have been devastating in the state, which has the lowest life expectancy in the nation. Polled as the most conservative state in the country in 2012, Mississippi has deregulated gun laws and a "fend for yourself" approach to healthcare.
The state recently made the news for passing an "anti-Bloomberg" bill with an overwhelming majority, demonstrating that Mississippi public policies are continuing in the wrong direction in a state where 7 out of 10 adults are overweight -- at least 30 pounds above their healthy weight -- or obese. The bill bars any restrictions to food fat content, portion size, and requirement that calories content be made available to the consumer, as they are in New York City.
Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity director Kelly Brownell explains that the personal responsibility approach to obesity does not hold weight because, "Humans are very responsive to (...) access, pricing, portions, marketing (...) have major effects on weight."
State regulation can do a great deal to make populations healthier: smoking bans and taxation are a prime example of this. Increased cigarette taxes have been extremely successful in reducing smoking rates . 192,000 of Mississippi's children are exposed to secondhand smoke at home annually . There is strong evidence demonstrating that smoking bans have impacted smoking rates and reduced childhood asthma hospital admissions. Mississippi has the nation's fifth highest statewide smoking rate. The state loses $1.49 billion a year to smoking-caused productivity losses. Mississippi's House and Senate just voted down a bill proposed by Senator Hob Bryan (D-MS) that would ban tobacco in workplaces, public buildings, casinos, and bars.
This past week a circus elephant named Carol was shot in a drive-by shooting in Tupelo. Gun control is another major GOP platform position that has wreaked havoc in the state. In 1991, Mississippi went from only allowing security guards to carry guns to passing a right-to-carry concealed weapons law. Unlike in states like Oregon, the law came without any gun safety training requirements. Today, 54.3 percent of Mississippians are armed and the state rates fifth in firearm deaths per capita.
While the Mississippi Republican Party Platform states that it "Fundamentally believes in the conservative principles of individual freedom, personal responsibility, free market economic policies, and a society that respects our God given rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and emphasizes that government is not a solution to problems. Despite being the poorest, Mississippi (along with a few other Southern states) has no minimum wage. Mississippi is also one of the most unequal states in the union, with African American women earning less today than the typical American did in 1960, African American men having a shorter lifespan than the average American in 1960, one third of adult African American men lacking high school diplomas, one in five Mississippians living below the poverty line, and almost seven out of ten public school children qualifying for subsidized lunches, leading me to wonder, for whom do free market economic polices create happiness and wellbeing?
According to Human Rights Watch, Mississippi state's health policy responses leave people with HIV/AIDS without treatment comparable to rates in Botswana, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. Former Governor -- and former Republican presidential contender -- Hailey Barbour attempted to block health care reform that would have expanded Medicaid benefits for people living with HIV in the state, despite the Federal government trying to bookmark funds for the state due to its high rates of untreated HIV/AIDS infection. Barbour rejected the funds. Despite high rates of HIV/AIDS infection, smoking, and overall poor health, 550,000 of Mississippi's 3 million people are uninsured. Governor Phil Bryant has rejected Obamacare, thus ensuring that hundreds of thousands of poor Mississippians will remain without regular access to healthcare.
Mississippi is also committed to abstinence-only education, despite having the highest teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates in the nation and the highest rate of children living in single parent households. Even though students in Mississippi are having sex earlier than in any other state, the state insists on suppressing information about condom use and effectiveness.
Although abstinence-only education fails to prevent teenagers from having sex and teen pregnancy, abstinence-only bills are being proposed in Arkansas, North Dakota, and Texas.
Although Mississippians have the worst access to basic necessities, including clean water, of any state, its state's ruling GOP promotes low taxation as the key to economic prosperity. It seems that increased taxation could fund gravely needed infrastructural improvements.
Not only is it inconceivable that gun deregulation means that children risk getting shot when they go to school; crime also costs Mississippi's government $4.17 billion annually. In 2010, violence cost our national government at least $460 billion in lost productivity and direct costs. Mississippi also has the nation's second highest incarceration rate. By 2007, Mississippi's broken jail system was already costing tax payers $327 million per year.
The Institute for Economics and Peace ranks the peacefulness of states by measuring: 1. the number of homicides per 100,000 people, 2. the number of violent crimes per 100,000 people, 3. number of incarcerated individuals per 100,000 people, 4. the number of police ofﬁcers per 100,000 people and 5. the general availability of small arms. Not surprisingly, it ranked states with permissive gun laws, high levels of homicide and violent crime and high incarceration rates, like Mississippi, as the least peaceful. Vermont, which was ranked the nation's second most peaceful state, has universal access to healthcare.
Societies with stark social inequalities experience higher rates of violent crime. Rights to social mobility, health, and quality education are inaccessible but firearms are readily available, violent crime is often the result. Regulation makes sense from a safety, ethical, economic, and public health standpoint. Although the Republican Party uses the language of freedom to promote deregulation, endemic gun violence and social inequalities strip individuals of their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.