Gun Violence: The Public Health Crisis
There is no denying that we’ve had to face a succession of difficult situations and bad news–the challenges of navigating through a pandemic, escalating inflation, and the devastating impact of gun violence, to name a few. It’s only natural to feel that we can’t exert much control over the course of external events but let’s think about our collective role in driving change on gun violence.
Let’s start first by taking a moment to acknowledge the tremendous loss that we continue to face as a result of tragic and deadly mass shootings. According to the CDC, in 2020, 45,222 Americans lost their lives to gun violence. Sadly, the gun-related death rate is on the increase. The 2020 rate is 14% more than the year before, a 25% increase from the five years prior, and a 43% increase from ten years earlier.
Unfortunately, COVID may well have had an impact on rates of gun violence. There were an estimated 22 million guns purchased in 2020, a 64% increase over 2019. Millions of people purchased guns thinking they were buying safety, when in fact, they were exposing themselves and others to higher risks of gun violence. In 2020, gun violence was the number one cause of death for children and teens. Gun violence is one of the leading causes of intentional and unintentional injuries and death in the United States, causing the death of a person every 10 minutes. In addition, the impact on communities of color is significant. Black Americans are nearly four times as likely to die from gun violence as white Americans
Calls for action are coming from all health care sectors. In a position paper, the American Academy of Family Physicians, recognized that “violence disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, such as women, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and intersex individuals, as well as those living in poverty.” The AAFP, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Psychiatric Association urged these three steps:
- label gun violence as a national public health epidemic;
- fund appropriate research in the federal budget; and
- establish restrictions on the manufacturing and sale of large-capacity magazines and firearms.
In recent comments, AMA President Dr. Gerald E. Harmon noted that last week’s shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and 2 adults were killed, followed by one week the shooting at a Buffalo supermarket where 10 people were killed, and that was 10 years after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting where 28 people were killed, which occurred 23 years after the Columbine High School shooting where 13 people were killed before the gunmen killed themselves. Harmon said action is long overdue.
More and more it is clear no place is safe—malls, schools, movie theaters, places of worship, and grocery stores have all been targeted. Firearm injuries and deaths are preventable. And while the ideal time to act and find common-sense solutions and common ground might have been years ago, the best we can do now is act today. We call on lawmakers, leaders and advocates to say enough is enough. No more Americans should die of firearm violence. No more people should lose loved ones.
I agree. We are fortunate in Washington state; to buy a semiautomatic rifle, purchasers must be at least 21 years-old, there is a 10-day waiting period and a background check that requires the chief of police or sheriff to provide written notice to the dealer whether the purchaser is eligible to possess a semiautomatic assault rifle, and there are training requirements. For those concerned about family or household members who are at high risk of harming themselves or others, there are extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs), which can be sought by court order.
On that last point, we have some room for improvement. A recent UW study found that 87% of ERPOs were filed by law enforcement, indicating “a need for further education for others (such as family members) to be aware of ERPOs as a tool and how to petition.” The King County Prosecutor’s Office is the only one in the state with a dedicated ERPO unit.
It’s time that we step up personally and take a stand on gun violence. You can help by amplifying the conversation. Share the statistics and information in this letter with family members, friends, colleagues, and elected officials. Let us know what your organization is doing to make a difference in gun violence and we will spread the word.
Stay safe and all the best,