International Public Health Literature on Firearms and Genocide: A Study in Omission

Don B. Kates, Jr., Pacific Research Inst. for Public Policy

Dubiously reliable data indicate that ordinary murders may have taken as many as 8 million lives worldwide during the 20th Century. in contrast, government-orchestrated genocide against civilian populations took over 170 million lives. Insofar as these killings were not perpetrated by military and police formations, they were perpetrated by civilians organized and led in the killings by the military or police. It is the view of the International Society for the Prevention of Genocide that "Prompt defensive measures are the most effective means for the prevention of genocide." Oddly, without ever discussing genocide per se, or defense against it, the public health literature on firearms recommends their worldwide prohibition to, and confiscation from, civilian populations (excepting only those civilians whose firearms ownership is approved by the military or police). Equally odd is that insofar as the international public health literature on firearms treats the mass murder of civilians it is described as something that occurs because firearm possession is not limited to the military, the police, and those civilians whose firearms ownership they approve.

[NOTE: As used here the term genocide includes all instances of knowing and intentional murder of civilians whether for racial-ethnic, regligious or political reasons, and without regard to whether the purpose was to exterminate an entire sub-group of the population or simply to weaken, frighten or coerce that group.]

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Updated 05/20/2006