Are Guns a Public Health Problem?

Guns have become a public health problem in the U.S.A.  Perhaps it is not the guns but the people who own and use them in nefarious and/or dangerous ways.

Americans have had a fascination with weapons since the American Revolution.  However, it is not a uniquely American way of life. Why has it persisted in the U.S.A. and not elsewhere?  There are many countries where people do not feel compelled to arm themselves for safety.  Why are these weapons so ubiquitous in the U.S.A.

The increase in the use of guns seems to fit the definition of a public health epidemic.  Is there something we are missing?  Modern news media broadcasts events much more quickly and there are many more avenues for news distribution now in addition to newspapers radio and television. The dawn of the internet occurred over twenty years ago, and social media platforms (twitter, facebook, Instagram have been in existence for over ten years. Much of social media content would not be fit to print, unlike the iconic phrase “All the news that is fit to be print” by the venerable New York Times.

Gun violence in the United States is a public health crisis.

It goes beyond the mass shootings that grab the nation�s attention. Every day, gun violence takes lives from communities all across the country in the form of suicides, unintentional shootings, and interpersonal conflicts that become fatal due to easy access to guns.

In this country, an average of 35,000 people is killed with guns every year�96 each day.

Yet this violence is not inevitable. Every other developed nation in the world does a better job of protecting its people from gun violence. The gun murder rate in the United States is 25 times higher than it is in peer nations, and American teenagers are 82 times more likely to die from a gun homicide than their international peers.

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There is no single, simple solution to reducing gun violence in this country. However, there are a number of common-sense steps that would be a great place to start�steps that could be taken right now.

During this interview, Dr. Jandial. a practicing neurosurgeon is asked by a morning news reporter if medical students are taught about taking a ‘gun history’ for patients.  He replied that in the course of a day’s work in emergency rooms, and surgery physicians are faced with the aftermath and treatment of gun injury, both physical and emotional.  However, physicians have not been trained using proactive measures such as ‘prevention’.  It would seem logical that just as physicians inquire about smoking habits and substance abuse would be the model for gun control as well.

A question arose as to whether it is appropriate for a physician’s office to inquire about ‘guns in the home. This has produced discussions amongst medical professionals.  Today it is common to take a history about sexual practices, nicotine, vaping,  substance abuse, gender as well as what we always thought was relevant medical history.  This topic should just be added to a normal medical history.

The topic has risen to that of more than urgency and now is an emergent issue. The medical community cannot continue to bury it’s head in the sand.  As trusted health advisors by patients, we owe our patients powerful support in this area. Every parent and student expresses this concern openly, why shouldn’t we as physicians do the same? 

Let’s be leaders.