When thinking of the leading cause of premature death in the US, what do you think is the cause? Smoking? Car accidents? Cardiac diseases? While all good guesses, none of them are the answer.
If you guessed gun violence you would be correct.
With more mass shootings in the US than days that have passed in 2023, it is safe to say that gun violence is an epidemic facing our country and must be treated as such. However, with proper infrastructure, the plague of gun violence could be significantly ameliorated; in 24 high-income countries – such as Australia, Italy, the UK, and the US – 82% of all firearm deaths occurred in the US, emphasizing that the issue is not one that is inevitable but rather one that requires proper regulation, as can be seen in other countries, including those aforementioned, to be addressed.
Gun violence comes in many shapes and, while having a staggering impact on all people, impacts different demographics to different levels of severity. Gun violence spans firearm suicides, firearm homicides, unintentional shootings, nonfatal firearm injuries, and sheer exposure to gun violence. These experiences can not only be fatal for individuals – specifically those disproportionately impacted by gun violence, including young adults, males, and racial minorities – but also create additional stress, trauma, and hardship on their families and loved ones.
Knowing the alarmingly widespread effects gun violence has on our nation, individuals in the field of public health and medicine are committed to addressing it as a public health crisis. In 2019, the Association of American Medical Colleges demanded an urgent, nonpartisan response to the gun violence epidemic facing America, having the unique insight of seeing the traumas of gun violence in medical settings on a daily basis. Congress has yet to take sufficient steps to address this public health crisis, as we continue to see horrific stories of gun violence on the news, such as that of 16 year old Ralph Yarl, who was shot earlier this month after ringing a doorbell at the incorrect house. However, many organizations have outlined key steps to addressing gun violence as a public health matter. These often include three components: a research/science-based component, a preventative component, and a collaborative component focused on spreading policy and awareness widely. Although there is already extensive research and data collection that indicates the severity of gun violence issues in our nation, continuing to monitor it and conduct research will allow for scientifically-based conclusions to be drawn that will best address the issues at hand. Next, preventative measures, which include stricter, common sense gun laws, community-based violence intervention programs, and requirements for safer firearm storage, among other regulations, could help mitigate gun violence. Lastly, it will require widespread adoption of these preventative measures in order to see lasting, meaningful change. Collaboration between government, community-based organizations, medical teams, and individuals will be absolutely necessary and will in turn promote equity in our nation.
While gun violence is not an issue that can be solved overnight, there is hope for a safer, more equitable nation that is not threatened by gun violence as severe as we currently experience. Combining research, the community, and national leaders, institutional change can be made to gun accessibility, and in turn gun violence in order to properly address this public health crisis facing our nation.