Updated: Feb 24, 2019
By Ariel Hyunseo Kim, Managing Editor
On an average day, 96 Americans are killed by a deadly epidemic. Just this year it has killed nearly 13,000 people, including more than 3,000 children and teens. It is the leading cause of premature death in the United States. This epidemic, threatening the safety of countless communities in this country each day, is gun violence.
According to the University of Pittsburgh, public health involves protecting and improving the safety and health of communities through education, policy making, and research for disease and injury prevention. A public health issue is one that threatens this safety; it creates a need for better research that, in the end, can help reduce casualties and damage. To target such issues, taking a public health approach is the best response: this, according to the World Health Organization, includes “planning for prevention and preparedness; management of mitigation, early response, and rehabilitation; and the implementation of International Health Regulations.” In essence, a public health approach requires one critical initial step: research.
Gun violence is irrefutably a public health issue: according to the American Public Health Association (APHA), “violence is contagious and can become epidemic within a society.” Yet, in 1996, deeming gun violence a “politically motivated” issue, the government banned any federal funding for research on gun violence, effectively preventing the development of a public health solution to this issue.
Medical and health experts have advocated for an immediate change. In 2016, over 100 medical organizations signed a letter to Congress asking to lift the ban on gun violence research. Gun violence is taking the lives of more and more American citizens and residents each and every day: we must act now to prevent further damage.
We can start with a few simple steps. The APHA has recommended four primary prevention methods that can be implemented to disrupt the spread of gun violence:
Conduct surveillance to track gun-related deaths and injuries and gain insight into the causes of gun violence and assess the impact of interventions;
Identify risk factors associated with gun violence (e.g., poverty and depression) and resilience or protective factors that guard against gun violence (e.g., youth access to trusted adults);
Develop, implement, and evaluate interventions to reduce risk factors and build resilience;
Institutionalize successful prevention strategies.
In response to similar policy recommendations on responding to gun violence through a public health approach by organizations such as the American College of Physicians (ACP), the National Rifle Association (NRA) recently tweeted, “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane. Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control. Most upsettingly, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves.” This represents the dangerous mentality that gun control is a political issue over which organizations like the NRA have a say, while others do not, and casts aside the victims of shootings as inevitable casualties caused by mentally ill individuals.
I don't mean to diminish the importance of the political controversy surrounding gun control. Indeed, the right to own firearms stems from the Second Amendment and is one that many are unwilling to give up. However, for this political discussion to move towards a beneficial outcome, it is necessary for the conversation about gun violence as a public health issue to begin. The facts are simple — Americans are dying from gun violence.
In addition, gun violence directly impacts the medical profession. Responding to NRA’s tweet, over a thousand angered American physicians posted about their own experiences with gun violence on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media apps, using the hashtags #Thisismylane and #Thisisourlane.
According to Ali Haider, MD, an American cardiologist:
Last I checked doctors are the ones who see the death and treat the disability from bullets that [American] citizens face daily. It is our duty to advocate for patients and their safety, and that of the public at large, whatever the health threat may be.
Another American physician, Earl Campbell III, MD, claimed:
I’ve seen the results of a bullet hole tearing through someone’s trachea and esophagus. A stent had to be placed to cover the massive gaping fistula that now connected the two… I’ll spare you the rest of the gory details. This is just one of the countless number of injuries I’ve seen first hand from gun violence.
A general surgery resident posted, along with a photo of her bloody scrubs,
This is what I looked like after the Las Vegas shooting 10/1/17. What you can’t see are the pools of blood I left behind after placing innumerable chest tubes and then going to the OR to operate on a 26 year old who was shot through the aorta. That patient walked out of the hospital within 3 weeks, but others did not. This is most definitely our lane and we need to be involved in the discussion and research.
Doctors and health officials aren’t arguing against gun ownership — they are arguing for more research and action regarding the injuries and deaths caused by gun violence in this country. If the government continues to prevent this research from taking place, it is no longer fulfilling its paramount obligation: protecting the lives of its people.