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Is Gun Violence a Threat to Public Health?

Almost thirty years ago, two medical researchers, Art Kellerman, and Fred Rivara, published research which definitively found that access to guns created medical risk. Since that research appeared, more than one million Americans have died from gunshot wounds, and at least another two million or more Americans have suffered non-fatal gunshot wounds.

In many cases, the victims of gun injuries who survived their wounds ended up having their lives shortened anyway. In just about every one of these three million instances where guns were used to end or shorten lives, the financial and psychological costs of this threat to health have been extreme.

In the past several years, gun-violence numbers appear to be mounting up, in many jurisdictions the increase in gun injuries has been in the order of 30 percent or even more.

Given what Kellerman and Rivara said about gun violence, findings which have been replicated again and again over the past three decades, I don’t understand why everyone now seems to agree that while gun violence constitutes a public health threat, the problem isn’t being treated as a public health issue at all.

And before anyone starts yapping to me about the sanctity of their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ mandating legal sanctions or rules to protect the community from a threat to public health has absolutely nothing to do with the Bill of Rights.

While the issue of closing public facilities or requiring social distancing in response to Covid-19 might have occasionally sparked a degree of phony outrage on the part of some freedom-loving conservatives, as well as that jerk who was elected President in 2016, the bottom line is that if a community vests a public body like a Health Department to set standards of public behavior to control a threat to health, what this body decides to do is what gets done.

I recall at one point during the Pandemic that Charlie Baker, the Governor, was waffling as to whether to issue a statewide masking mandate covering all public sites. Meanwhile, the Board of Health of the city of Chicopee, which happens to be adjacent to where I live, decided not to dilly-dally around, and pronounced a masking mandate covering every public facility in the town. I happened to pull into a convenience store in Chicopee that day and there was a notice posted on the door stating that nobody was allowed into the premises who wasn’t wearing a mask.

Know what would have happened if some patriotic supporter of the Constitution had gone into the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to demand that he be allowed to walk into that convenience store without wearing a mask? He would have been told, to quote Grandpa, ‘gai cocken’ (read: stick it up your you-know-what.)

But getting back to the issue of guns as a threat to public health, it’s not just the research which shows this concept to be true. Last year, the new Director of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky, stated that her agency believed that guns were a public health threat.

What did the CDC then do to respond to this threat? They put up a website to be the source for promoting that agency’s response to gun violence, stated as such: “CDC’s approach to preventing firearm injuries focuses on three elements: providing data to inform action; conducting research and applying science to identify effective solutions; and promoting collaboration across multiple sectors to address the problem.”

With all due respect to the CDC, virtually every jurisdiction in the United States already has an agency which can conduct these three tasks to inform and manage the threat of gun violence within the agency’s respective geographic domain. After all, isn’t this what virtually every Board of Health has been doing to protect its subject populations from Covid-19?

Isn’t this also what Health Boards have been doing for the last century in response to other public health threats like unclean water, or breakdowns in sanitation, or other health problems which need to be addressed in a community-wide way?

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what the CDC refers to as the ‘root cause’ of gun violence – it’s a medical threat which occurs when certain individuals have access to guns which they use to inflict a serious injury to their own health or the health of someone else.

If the CDC wants to get serious about reducing gun violence, the agency should furnish every Board of Health with the monies to cover the costs of developing an action plan to deal with the problem, hiring an individual to administer the plan, and changing or fine-tuning the plan in response to how gun violence numbers change.

I don’t believe such a program currently exists in any public health jurisdiction within the United States. That being the case, why do we even bother talking about gun violence as a public health threat?

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