As the leading cause of premature deaths in the United States, gun violence takes the lives of approximately 30,000 people per year and injures another 60,000. Recognizing that the issue of gun violence is complex and deeply rooted in American culture, the American Public Health Association (APHA) advocates for a comprehensive public health approach to violence prevention policies and to ensuring that our families and communities are kept safe. In their words, “We must place a renewed emphasis on improving gun injury and violence research. Ongoing work is needed to ensure firearms do not fall into the wrong hands and to expand access to mental health services to those who need it most.”
Treating the gun violence epidemic as a public health concern would mean employing the same approach as we do for any infectious disease outbreak — tracking it, finding the root causes of it, using science to find research gaps, creating policy solutions and using public education campaigns to help eliminate the threat. Using the recent Ebola virus outbreak as an example, the public health community addressed it immediately, established an evidence base by studying it, tracked it, put prevention measures into place, assessed any knowledge gaps and the federal government even appointed an Ebola “czar” to coordinate the response. And this was just because of a handful of cases.
The APHA advocates for some common sense measures that can have an immediate effect, including:
- Universal background checks for all gun purchases, including at gun shows and over the internet;
- Federal funding for research and prevention strategies to help close the gaps in knowledge around gun violence;
- Strengthen and renew the federal assault weapon ban, including limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines; and,
- Building public health infrastructure for youth violence prevention by encouraging healthier behaviors.
But political obstacles remain. For example, the day after 14 health department workers were shot and killed in San Bernardino, California, the Senate voted down a bipartisan proposal that would have expanded gun sale background checks to include gun show and online sales. And despite scientific evidence to the contrary, 63 percent of Americans polled in 2014 believed that a gun makes a home safer.
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