Gun Violence: Still A Public Health Issue

The three-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown is cause for reflection here in Connecticut.   Sadly, little has changed since then.  However, for the first time in 19 years we’ve seen a glimmer of hope to lift the ban on funding for gun violence prevention research.  The American College of Physicians is advocating strongly for lifting this ban.  Our organization joined together with 23 others to urge Congress to act (see the letter).

I live in one of the 25 U.S. cities or towns named Madison, after the Father of the Constitution and primary author of the Bill of Rights.  I bring this up because the second amendment has become such a source of polarity in our country. While you will frequently hear people debate the “intent of the founding fathers” when it comes to constitutional questions, one cannot argue with the fact that the world was a different place in 1789 when the Bill of Rights was crafted.  In the late 18th century, there was suspicion that a federally controlled military force might overthrow state governments; Madison himself felt it was important to have state militias that could protect the public from the federal army.  However, during the War of 1812, civilian militias were largely ineffective and it was determined that a strong standing army was required.  In the 21st century, the states and federal government have a different relationship.  For the most part, we have been secure within our borders.  We have a strong standing military.  The idea that all able-bodied men between 19 and 45 will need to be called upon to quell an insurgence related to imperial designs by another country or by terrorists (or maybe zombies?) is far-fetched.

On the other hand, the statistics about gun related deaths seemingly speak for themselves. So far, in 2015, gun violence is responsible for 12,533 deaths in the United States [this data is available at http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/]. We’ve already had 353 mass shootings in 2015 (defined as the shooting of four or more people); a list can be found at http://www.shootingtracker.com/wiki/Mass_Shootings_in_2015.  National data on causes of death in 2013, reported by the CDC, also reveals that of the 33,169 gun-induced deaths, 21,175 were self-inflicted.  Since the horror of Newtown, 555 children have succumbed to firearm violence; that is one every other day.  How could we not be outraged?  The 12,533 gun homicides this year are more than Ebola virus has killed worldwide (11,315); not only that, only 1 of those Ebola deaths has occurred in the U.S., yet Ebola elicits much more angst and hand-wringing than gun violence.  Nonsense perpetrated by the NRA about self-defense does not justify the ongoing slaughter.  If you need to be convinced, read the Violence Policy Center’s analysis of FBI and National Crime Victimization Survey Data.  In it, you will learn that in 2012, only 259 gun-related justifiable homicides were recorded against over 8,000 criminal homicides and 20,000 suicides or unintentional deaths caused by firearms (in CT, there were 0 justifiable homicides).

This country’s irrational love affair with firearms continues, at the expense of thousands of American lives.  We have to make it clear that firearm violence is a public health issue.  It’s preposterous that we cannot make substantive progress towards addressing the problem.  Let Congress hear your outrage.

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