Lawyers, Guns, and Money

A Plenary Presentation from the Conference "Using Law, Policy, and Research to Improve the Public's Health

On behalf of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), I want to thank the Public Health Law Association and the American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics for your leadership and the work that both you and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have done to grow this field. RWJF is pleased to co-sponsor this conference. The music that opened this talk is a clip from Warren Zevon, who encouraged us musically to "send lawyers, guns and money." Zevon was a singer/songwriter and social critic whose songs often took a jaundiced, somewhat cynical point of view. Even so, I know that I am probably stretching his meaning when I think of this song. I see "lawyers, guns and money" as his take on the major drivers of how change happens in a society.

The goal of public health is to change society so that people are healthier and that the health disparities that exist between subgroups of our population or between communities are diminished. In considering Zevon’s song, I know that public health would clearly never have the brute force behind it that is implied in the guns element. And the money behind public health is likely never to rival the money behind products like tobacco, alcohol, or less healthy food items. So we are left with lawyers — with law as the means to make changes to improve health.

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