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Friday, October 16, 2015

Is Gun Violence a Public Health Issue?

How is public health defined, who decides what that definition is and on what information are they basing their decision? Who has a seat at the table while these topics are being discussed?

Recently, I found myself thinking; " How many people have to die before action is taken to decrease gun violence?" I suppose there is an argument for the fact that all societies are desensitized to their own failings.

Where then, must we go to gather together those that have the right thinking on the issues that hold us back from living up to the ideals of our society?

Although I don't recall the first time I thought about the idea of fostering discussion around gun violence as a public health issue, even a brief google search shows that this topic is already out there.

There's a lot to delve into here...

I do think that a civil society has an obligation to provide certain services to its citizens. Health care, being one of them. In order to move from talking about heady ideas and lofty goals to actually identifying what specific steps to take to create a better quality of life when it comes to access to health care, you have to get into economics.

An idea by itself is stagnant without the necessary resources and oversight to actually take action.

Rather than write this entire post from an editorial perspective, I think it will be more useful for me to give an overview of some of the voices that have chimed in to the discussion about whether or not gun violence is a public health issue.

No matter how you define it, public health only moves forward when facts are given pride of place over everything else.

If you google Public Health, the first entry that comes up is the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Other sources of information are the WHO (World Health Organization) and the APHA (American Public Health Association).

If you want to see a fact sheet on gun violence, the APHA has a resource titled, "Gun Violence has an article that reviews several different perspectives on the topic of whether or not gun violence is a public health issue.

Diversity of thought  is necessary to yield any kind of forward thinking approach to improving our society; thus community activists, students, think tanks and colleges and universities should all have a role in shaping the discourse around gun violence and how best we can understand it and prevent it.

I spoke with Professor Jon Vernick, Co-Director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research  at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health about the idea of framing gun violence as a public health issue.

"Guns claim more than 30,000 lives in the United States alone every year and another additional 70,000 or so non-fatal violent injuries are associated with guns. By thinking of it as a public health problem we can consider all aspects of the problem, not just gun deaths by homicide which are of interest to the criminal justice world, (but) we can also  think about suicide and accidental gun deaths. We can consider upstream solutions. Whereas the criminal justice system thinks primarily, though not exclusively about punishment, public health thinks primarily about trying to keep people from getting hurt in the first place.

Public health also has a tradition of focusing on the vector of a particular cause. In this topic, the vector is the firearm. There is a history in public health about 'how we can modify the vector'; how to keep guns out of the hands of a violent person in the first place.

There is a history of success that public health has had in other areas such as motor vehicles.By thinking of guns as a public health problem maybe there is inspiration that can be drawn from other successes."

This quote brings to the surface the idea that there are multiple aspects to gun violence which, in my opinion, is an important point. In order to make progress it is necessary for the major media outlets to inform the public of the kinds of things that are taking away from our ideas and ideals as a nation. Moving forward, it is absolutely critical to have more in-depth conversations about preventative measures. These conversations, guided by a nuanced perspective of the topic(s), inform the voting public and the wheels of progress turn...or at least that's the idea.