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Guns, Violence and Health


I've been pretty disillusioned since the Sandy Hook Massacres in 2012. When we offer only "thoughts and prayers" for 26 kindergarteners and teachers killed by a gunman I figure we are a morally bankrupt nation. When 10 states relaxed their gun regulations after Sandy Hook, I felt like giving up. But the recent shooting in Brooklyn has made me realize we need a completely different approach if we want to live in a safer United States.


We have some good data on suicides but very little scientific study on guns, violence and its affect on Americans. For instance, we know that if a child or adult witnesses suicide or even hears about it, they are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and, in some cases even attempt it. But we have a lack of information on firearm violence epidemiology. (Epidemiology - The branch of medicine that deals with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health.)


In 1993 there was a famous study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that showed having a gun in the home increased the risk of homicide and suicide. Three years later, the Dickey Amendment was inserted into the CDC spending bill by Congress and it stated that no funds at the CDC could be used to advocate or promote gun control. Support for gun injury prevention research was gone, Poof!


Gun related deaths and injuries are a public health crisis. If this were a disease, we would call it an epidemic. Twenty-one mass shootings have taken place in the past two weeks, resulting in 22 deaths and 111 injuries. So far in 2022, there have been 133 mass shootings. That gets the news but it is just the tip of the iceberg when we consider the deaths from firearms.


Gun violence is the leading cause of premature death in the U.S. Between 2014-2017, gun related death increased by 20%.



Gun violence is preventable. Like with other health epidemics, we should use core public health policies to track and interrupt the transmission of violence by conducting surveillance of gun related death and injury, identify risk factors (poverty, depression) and develop prevention strategies. This is how modern science deals with epidemics. We need data!


There are programs that we know are effective and they need to be studied and spread. A 2018 study showed turning vacant lots into gardens lowers violence in communities. Advance Peace, a non-profit in Stockton, California has reduced gun homicides by 20% city wide. AFFIRM (the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine) is trying to reframe the issues and remove the politics from this critical epidemic.


Prevention doesn't mean we have to predict who will commit gun violence. Aviation safety measures protect everyone who flys. Common sense gun measures would make communities safer for everyone. (especially our Police).


Lets get to it. What are common sense measures to prevent gun violence?

  • Background checks for all gun purchases, including gun shows and the internet.

  • Felons and the severely mentally ill should be prohibited from buying or owning guns

  • Reinstate the federal ban on high capacity ammo magazines and assault weapons that expired in 2004.

  • Enact extreme risk protection orders (ERPO) which allow family members or law enforcement to petition a judge to remove firearms from a person deemed at risk of harming himself or others.


Just like tobacco, opioids, Covid, polio, smallpox, seat belts, gun violence is preventable and is a public health issue. Remove the politics and use data to show what interventions would work to make us all safer.


Hat Tip for inspiring me to write on this subject: “Your Local Epidemiologist (YLE)” is written by Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, MPH PhD—an epidemiologist, biostatistician, professor, researcher

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