Gun Violence is a Public Health Crisis -
Let’s Treat It Like One
Mass shootings are happening so frequently in our country that the past few weeks seem as unsurprising as they are terrifying: 19 innocent children and two teachers killed in Uvalde, Texas; 10 killed in one of the deadliest and racist massacres in recent U.S. history in Buffalo, New York; four lives lost to an angry patient with a gun at a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and a security guard shot to death inside a Dayton, Ohio hospital. The horror and heartbreak are overwhelming, yet all too familiar as last year, gun deaths rose even higher and approached rates our country has not seen since the early 1970s and 1990s.*
These most recent atrocities, occurring just days apart, are sadly just a few of the more than 200 mass shootings documented this year in our country. With so many Americans senselessly killed and many more lives forever destroyed, we ask: What will it take to stop the killing?
As advocates for our communities’ health and wellbeing, these national tragedies shake us to our very core. In 2016, the American Medical Association (AMA) declared gun violence a public health crisis after 49 people were killed in an Orlando, Florida nightclub. It is incredibly frustrating to realize that since that time, little has changed to put an end to these pointless killings.
The AMA continues to advocate for evidence-based interventions to reduce death and injuries related to guns. As health care professionals, we know the value of using research and data to effect change – we use that evidence-based approach in caring for our patients every day.
By addressing gun violence as the public health crisis that it is, we can begin to make necessary and life-saving changes. Because despite the well-worn paths our cultural and political debates take in the aftermath of each of these events, the science is clear: More guns do not stop crime.** Guns kill more children every year than car crashes.***
Despite the frequency with which these mass shootings occur, there is a concerning lack of real data pointing to their cause. To tackle this issue in a manner that our country deserves, more research must be done and information collected to inform the development of a solution. No resolution to this crisis will be complete without a mental health component. Many of the gunmen have had few and in some cases, no interactions with the mental health system.
The Uvalde, Texas shooter did not have a history of any psychiatric disorder. Some studies have shown that access to guns and previous gun violence are likely more effective predictors of violent behavior involving a gun than having a mental illness. In fact, experts indicate that those with a psychiatric diagnosis are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. More research is needed and mental health expertise must be incorporated into any and all efforts to put an end to this violence.
For it to be effective, our society must arrive at a multicultural solution – one that embraces diversity, equity and inclusion and ensures that all voices are heard. Much like our national effort in the 1980s to reduce the number of drunk driving deaths, a reduction in gun violence will require a multipronged approach touching every facet of our society. And, like the drunk driving effort, it must start with concerned citizens -- like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) -- standing up and saying, “Enough.”
The group’s refusal to accept preventable deaths and their willingness to speak up ultimately led to a dynamic shift in public opinion, which in turn was followed by tougher laws and penalties for those who drive drunk. Armed with data and research, MADD took its cause to schools, churches and eventually to legislative chambers. Its hard-fought successes continue to save countless lives today.
Moms Demand Action is taking just that approach. What started as a Facebook group in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy now has more than 700 chapters across the country and is part of Everytown for Gun Safety, the nation’s largest violence prevention organization. Like MADD, Moms Demand Action is harnessing the power of everyday Americans to advance evidence-based solutions to gun violence.
By approaching gun violence as a public health emergency and educating and engaging our communities, we believe it’s possible to make the changes needed to keep our loved ones safe. Because regardless of our political affiliations or cultural differences, we all agree that no parent should ever fear for their child’s safety as they send them to school and that a person’s race, religion, gender identity and sexual preference should never place a target on their back. There is a genuine consensus that these senseless and preventable killings must end. Let’s build on that common ground and use reliable data to inform and adopt common sense approaches to reducing gun violence.