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Violence in America

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2013 - Winter


Few of us, said New Haven Police Chief Dean M. Esserman, keep track of how many soldiers die in Iraq and Afghanistan on any given day. The United States, he said, also has a body count. “Do you know what the body count in America was last night?” he asked surgeons at grand rounds on January 30. “The body count was 30 to 40. It is always 30 to 40. The news story goes something like this: A young man is dead. A young man is arrested or suspected. The implement of death is almost always a gun, almost always a handgun.”

The number of gun deaths is extraordinary, Esserman told the assembled surgeons during his talk, given that the country is not at war with itself. “Hartford is not attacking New Haven and New Haven is not attacking Bridgeport. New Haven kills New Haven. Hartford kills Hartford.”

In response to a question about gun control, Esserman said that assault weapons are appropriate for the military, but not for everyone. He also believes in stronger rules governing gun sales. It’s too easy to get around gun laws by crossing a state line, having a friend buy a gun, or simply going to a gun show. He noted, though, that growing up in New York City he never handled a gun until he went to Dartmouth, where some of his classmates were avid shooters and hunters. “There is really more than one America,” he said, referring to attitudes towards gun control. “I hope we can find a middle ground.”

For Esserman the solution to gun violence lies not just in regulating weapons or putting more police on the street. Police, he said, should be involved in their communities and support such organizations for children as the Police Athletic League, the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, and the YMCA. The most dangerous time of day for a teenager, he said, is between school dismissal and dinnertime.

“We [police] are not the best way to fight crime. We are the second best way to fight crime,” he said. “The best way to fight crime is to invest in our children.”