Letter: Gun violence is a public health problem

The American Public Health Association and the American Medical Association both call gun violence a public health problem. The majority of Americans (87%) see gun violence as a public health threat (77% Republicans, 96% Democrats), according to a recent poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association.

A public health approach to preventing gun violence recognizes that violence is contagious and can become epidemic within a society. Preventions, such as these listed below, involve using core public health activities to interrupt the transmission of violence:

• Conducting surveillance to track gun-related deaths, gain insight into the causes of gun violence and assess the impact of interventions;

• Identifying risk factors associated with gun violence (e.g., poverty and depression) and protective factors that guard against gun violence (e.g., youth access to trusted adults);

• Institutionalizing successful prevention strategies. Aviation safety regulations make air travel safer for everyone, and commonsense measures to prevent gun violence make communities safer for everyone.

To enhance the nation’s public health response to gun violence, we need:

• Continued surveillance. In 2020, Congress provided $23.5 million to the National Violent Death Reporting System. This data will provide a more complete picture of gun violence in the United States.

• More research. Currently, there is almost no credible evidence that right-to-carry laws increase or decrease violent crime; almost no empirical evidence to support dozens of violence prevention programs for children; scant data on the effects of different gun safety technologies on violence and crime; and scant data on the link between firearms policy and suicidal behavior.

• Common sense gun policies. Require criminal background checks for all firearms purchases. Currently, unlicensed firearms sellers give felons, the severely mentally ill and others prohibited from owning firearms access to weapons. The American Public Health Association supports reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, which expired in 2004.

The aforementioned is just a sample of what our public health response can and should be.

Gun violence is preventable.

Gun violence is not inevitable.

It can be prevented through a comprehensive public health approach that keeps families and communities safe.

Nancy Spillane

Oak Creek

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