The Public Health Response to Gun Violence in the U.S. | Aug 30, 2016

Gun violence has become an increasingly prominent topic in the media over the last decade. As more instances of deaths caused by firearms hit the news circuit, solutions are proposed from a variety of sources, but little consensus is reached.

In June, the American Medical Association officially declared gun violence a public health crisis in the U.S. While public health may typically be associated with infectious diseases or chronic illnesses, many professionals in the field believe that addressing it as a matter of population wellness could help the nation to appropriately address the situation.

Gun violence in the U.S.

According to The New York Times, the death rate from gun violence in the U.S. as of 2016 is approximately 31 people per every million, which translates to about 27 shooting deaths per day. The prevalence has led organizations such as the AMA to actively lobby congress to pass new legislation in the face of what they see as a national crisis.

“Even as America faces a crisis unrivaled in any other developed country, the Congress prohibits the CDC from conducting the very research that would help us understand the problems associated with gun violence and determine how to reduce the high rate of firearm-related deaths and injuries,” said AMA President Dr. Steven J. Stack in a press release. “An epidemiological analysis of gun violence is vital so physicians and other health providers, law enforcement, and society at large may be able to prevent injury, death and other harms to society resulting from firearms.”

However, in addition to the politically charged nature of the topic, a major hurdle is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is effectively banned from doing research on gun violence. As late as July 2016, The Hill reported that efforts to overturn the budget amendment that has frozen research over the last 17 years were still being opposed, keeping the department from pursuing studies.

Despite the challenges, multiple major public health organizations have begun to call for action. After the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. in Dec. 2015, Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, wrote an article in The Guardian calling for a public health response to gun violence. According to Doctors for America, other groups that have echoed this call, demanding an end to the effective ban on research, include the Washington State Public Health Association, Virginia Public Health Association, National Network of Public Health Institutes, National Association of County and City and Health Officials, American Public Health Association and many more.

The role of public health professionals

As a public health professional, you may be wondering how those in your field can address this crisis. There are many strategies that have been suggested, and a number of organizations are already taking action where they can.

“We should track it, find the root causes, use science to find research gaps, create policy solutions and use mass public education campaigns to eradicate the threat,” Benjamin wrote in The Guardian.

If this is an area that interests you, consider interning while you complete your Master of Public Health degree with a group, such as the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, that is working to find a solution. Gaining experience in this area will help you to land a permanent position.