Experts: Gun Violence Is a Public Health Problem That Requires a Multifaceted Solution

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On Tuesday, three people were shot following the Morris Jeff High School graduation at Xavier University’s Convocation Center. It was the second time this year a graduation ceremony was immediately followed with violence: just two weeks earlier, four people were injured following Hammond High School’s graduation at Southeastern’s University Center. Sandwiched between the two events are several violent weekends, and of course, the Robb Elementary School mass shooting in Uvalde, TX where 19 children and two teachers were killed.

While politicians debate the necessity of gun bans and the issues that come with increased policing, current science offers a myriad of other solutions – ones that treat gun violence as the public health issue that it is, rather than a simple matter of criminality or legality.

Over the past 20 years, the American Medical Association (AMA) has developed a laundry list of approaches for reducing gun violence across the country. One of those recommendations is to take a public health approach to gun violence that includes research, education, conflict detection and interruption, and mediation. Just as important is addressing systemic issues that can lead to violence such as racism and food and housing insecurity.

“We need a multidisciplinary approach to preventing gun violence,” says Dr. Sharven Taghavi, trauma and critical care surgeon and assistant professor at Tulane University School of Medicine. “We must fund more research to understand the drivers of this issue. From our research at the Violence Prevention Institute, we know factors such as structural racism and food insecurity all play a role.”

That’s not to say that stricter gun control laws shouldn’t be considered. According to research from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, states that have the strictest gun control laws tend to have the lowest gun death rates.

“From a purely rational, problem-solving perspective, all things should be on the table, including stronger gun control,” said Daniel Webster, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. According to a study co-authored by Webster, the most effective policies for reducing mass shootings such as the one in Uvalde include restricting large-capacity magazines and requiring licensing for gun buyers.

The AMA agrees, and also supports additional measures such as:

  • Universal background checks for all firearm purchases
  • A waiting period when purchasing firearms
  • Gun safety education
  • Regulation of interstate gun trafficking
  • A ban on automatic repeating weapons
  • Restriction of assault weapons
  • Increased study on firearm deaths and injuries

According to Cure Violence, a global organization dedicated to a public-health approach to ending gun violence, gun violence should be treated similarly to a contagious disease. In their statement on the Uvalde, TX shooting, they note several things missing in the current approach to gun violence that do not include firearm bans:

  • Intentional effort to detect warning signs of people at risk for behaving violently
  • Methods for anyone to report concerns with confidence and trust that the effects will be positive
  • Highly personalized prevention and care provided to those at highest risk of behaving violently
  • Tracking and following up with people at risk of behaving violently
  • Trainings on detecting warning signs and responding

The good news is that some of these methods are already at work here in New Orleans, thanks to both Cure Violence and the Mayor’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention (OGVP). Following Tuesday’s graduation shooting, the OGVP rushed to perform intake assessments on the survivors who agreed to services. Those services include mental health, substance abuse, housing, and education resources meant to help prevent retaliatory violence.

“Gun violence continues to plague our city, and we will remain laser-focused on leveraging local and federal partnerships to prioritize initiatives that address prevention strategies,” Mayor Cantrell said on Tuesday. “However, we also understand that there is a higher degree of personal responsibility that needs to be present in order to de-escalate these situations.”

“As we are seeing all across the country, gun violence is a disease, and the cure requires a collaborative approach involving each of us coming together to make our streets safer.”

During the COVID pandemic, much of society pulled together to take responsibility for protecting each other’s health by embracing measures such as social distancing and wearing masks. Experts agree that a similar approach could work towards lessening gun violence.

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