Criticism of President Donald Trump’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic has figured prominently at the Democratic National Convention this week. But last night the party shifted its focus to a different sort of epidemic.
The actress Kerry Washington, the evening’s M.C., introduced the topic at the beginning of the program, saying “90 percent of Americans support common-sense gun laws, because we need to do more to address the epidemic of gun violence.” A convention video continued the theme. “Long before this pandemic, our country has been suffering from an epidemic of gun violence,” a Florida gun control supporter identified as “Maria W.” says, describing murder by firearm as a “public health crisis.” Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden uses similar rhetoric. “Joe Biden knows that gun violence is a public health epidemic,” his campaign website says, introducing “The Biden Plan to End Our Gun Violence Epidemic.” This year’s Democratic platform likewise talks about “ending the epidemic of gun violence.” Leaving aside the question of whether the “common-sense gun laws” Biden favors would actually have a meaningful impact, is it accurate to describe gun violence in the United States as an “epidemic”? Obviously not in any literal sense, since gun violence is not caused by an infectious microorganism that spreads from person to person. Figuratively, however, the term epidemic implies a problem that is escalating and out of control, which is true of gun violence only if you focus on a narrow slice of the data. [full article]