The news highlighting the gun violence across our country this past weekend was yet another wake-up call for America. A quick Google search provided a long list of heart-breaking and appalling events resulting in unnecessary losses of lives and disruptions of communities. The media has shared initial insights about the events ranging from racially and politically motivated killings to gang-related shootings and suicides — each unacceptable and each preventable.
Preventive medicine physicians have long been aware of the tragic scale of gun violence in the United States. Each year, more than 40 thousand Americans die from gun violence — more than 100 per day. The violence of this past weekend is a painful reminder of the work yet to be done to prevent violent deaths in America — and the intersection of related crises and challenges that must be addressed including anti-racism; mental health; continued need for public health evidence, practice, policies, and institutions; and other factors to improve health resilience in our communities.
Sadly, minoritized and marginalized populations bear a disproportionate burden of gun violence in America. That includes the more than 200 mass shootings that have occurred so far this year, the thousands of other gun deaths that never make the news and the more than 60% of gun deaths that occur by suicide. Preventive medicine physicians well understand the need for equity-focused public health practices in areas such as chronic and infectious diseases — we must also bring forward solutions to gun violence that address the underlying mechanisms of these acts through a lens of equity, diversity, inclusion, and access to resources.
ACPM has long supported data-driven decisions and evidence-based measures to prevent gun violence. This ranges from universal background checks and mandatory waiting periods to increased support for the essential research and surveillance that leads to effective violence prevention policy and interventions. However, these policies must be consistently enacted to be effective. Like any public health intervention, efforts to reduce gun proliferation and violence must have procedures that are routinely followed, data that are collected to inform and optimize efforts, and buy-in from the communities the policies and procedures seek to serve.
Additionally, providing the appropriate mental health resources with equitable access is a critical component of violence prevention. This goes beyond access to counselling and mental health professionals. We must apply a public health lens – reaching out to communities struggling with violence and deaths of despair and then not just treating the symptoms but identifying and addressing the underlying causes.
Gun violence results in tragic and unacceptable losses to individuals, their families and friends, and the communities in which they live, work and play. Every shooting death is preventable — with strategic efforts on implementing violence prevention initiatives addressing anti-racism, mental health, and equitable access to resources to ensure health and health resilience for all, we can prevent them — we must prevent them.