Willson: American outrage over deaths in this country is hypocritical

Many people believe gun violence to be the leading cause of fatalities in the United States. They also think the phenomenon detracts funds from the American taxpayer due to healthcare costs. This, however, is false. The reality is that heart disease contributes far more to deaths and debt than handguns.

As someone with relatively liberal beliefs I am not the most fervent proponent of cutting back on gun control legislation. That being said I don’t think that firearms are as significant a threat to our nation’s safety as they are often made out to be. Those in favor of strict gun control often argue that the weapons are responsible for tens of thousands of injuries, a great portion of which are fatal. Furthermore proponents cite the cost of these damages as a cumbersome weight on taxpayers. While there’s no doubt that gun violence can result in death and financial losses these are not the most convincing grounds for limiting ownership rights. In fact the greatest threat to the protection of Americans (and their wallets) has nothing to do with firearms.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. While cancer comes in at a close second, cardiovascular disease is more prevalent. Annually, heart disease kills more than 800,000 people. By comparison approximately 36,000 people died from guns in 2015. To put that into perspective, heart disease kills more than 23 times the number of people than guns. Yet all the media seems to discuss is why firearms are terrible. Where is the coverage concerning Americans’ diseased hearts?

Opponents of widespread gun ownership also cite financial costs as a major concern. In 2015 research by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation found that the direct costs—such as medical care, investigation by authorities and emergency services of gun violence—account for $8.6 billion in costs. Indirect costs of gun violence (e.g. income loss, lower quality of life) were found to produce $229 billion in fees. While these numbers may seem staggering they pale in comparison to the financial brunt of heart disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assert that heart attacks and strokes resulting from cardiovascular disease are responsible for $320 billion in annual costs, most of which stem from healthcare fees and lost productivity in the workforce. Additionally the CDC estimates that this number will rise to $818 billion by the year 2030 as the prevalence of cardiovascular disease is expected to increase. When you crunch the numbers it is clear that American sickness is already costing the nation more than shotguns.

Those who do not support gun ownership may continue to argue that firearms are fatal and costly. But rather than continue to debate Second Amendment rights perhaps we should start focusing on the leading cause of America’s deaths and debt: heart disease. It is important to understand that, unlike genetically inherited illnesses, heart disease is most commonly linked to deleterious lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity, poor nutrition and insufficient exercise. In most cases disease onset can be prevented, so long as one makes good decisions regarding his or her health. For instance smoking-related heart disease can be prevented by refraining from cigarette use; obesity-related heart disease can be avoided by maintaining a healthy body weight, et cetera. But bad habits die hard and most people would rather continue to engage in destructive behaviors than change their ways. Unfortunately a problem cannot be solved if it isn’t even acknowledged and ignoring unhealthy trends won’t make them go away. Maybe if more people knew that their health problems were preventable and/or curable the mortality rate and financial costs attributed to cardiovascular illness would decrease.

It is true that gun violence is a problem in our country. However the death and debt rate of heart disease is a far more germane social issue. Why are more people not informed of this illness and its contribution to other national woes? It could be because a number of major media outlets employ liberal language and subject matter in order to appeal to a broader range of audiences. For example most democrats would prefer to hear about the dangers of guns, as this can be used as fuel to stoke an anti-Republican fire. On the other end of the spectrum it seems that even conservative-leaning news stations, such as Fox News, fail to provide comprehensive coverage on cardiovascular disease, preferring instead to chastise democratic politicians. Perhaps this is because if heart disease receives greater attention it will shed light on a range of other societal ills.

Obesity, a major risk factor for developing cardiovascular illness, would not be so prevalent were it not for food deserts and Americans’ consequent reliance on heavily processed foods. Additionally the fact that so many Americans are uneducated about how to take care of themselves demonstrates the failure of both our educational system and public health officials, for these structures should be informing citizens of such topics. It also doesn’t help that healthcare in the U.S. costs twice as much as that of other developed nations.

Rather than address these deficiencies, it seems that many would prefer to continue debating other topics (e.g. gun control, abortion, marijuana use) ad nauseum. But consider this: with less time, energy and money being spent on healthcare for heart disease we might finally be able to reach a bipartisan consensus on difficult legislation, such as gun laws. Not only would doing so save lives and eliminate unnecessary expenses but it would extinguish discord amongst American citizens. Eradicating one of the most divisive issues in modern society may be as simple as looking to one’s heart.