US Surgeon General Declares Gun Violence a Public Health Crisis, Calls for Action and Policy Change

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US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has labeled gun violence a public health crisis, aiming to address the United States’ leading position in global shooting deaths. In an unprecedented report calling for action, the top medical official highlighted that most Americans or their family members have been affected by gun violence.

Dr. Murthy believes a public health approach, similar to past efforts on seatbelt safety and smoking cessation, could mitigate gun violence. He aims to depoliticize the issue, urging Americans to focus on the impacts and data.

“I want people to understand the full impact gun violence is having on the United States,” Dr. Murthy told the BBC in an interview on Tuesday.

“For every one life lost, there are two people who are shot and injured and are experiencing mental and physical health consequences, family members who grieve the loss of a loved one, witnesses to these incidents, and millions who read about and hear about gun violence every day in the papers.”

Gun safety advocates are cautiously optimistic about the advisory, seeing it as a step towards changing public perception.

“This is not a political issue,” Dr. Chethan Sathya, director of Northwell Health’s Center for Gun Violence Prevention, told the BBC.

“This is about safer communities, firearm safety, and violence prevention.”

While the 40-page report is largely symbolic and does not mandate policy changes, it is considered a significant step towards reducing deaths and reshaping the conversation around guns in America.

Dr. Sathya describes it as “legitimising” the use of research and public health resources to address gun violence.

“This isn’t just an issue of ‘we need background checks’ and we’re done,” he said.

“We need a lot of different nuanced policy and strategy to be able to tackle this in a way that makes sense for all Americans.”

The report emphasizes understanding the magnitude of the problem. Since 2020, firearms have been the leading cause of death for children and young Americans. The U.S. gun death rate is 11.4 times higher than in 28 other high-income countries, underscoring the problem as uniquely American.

“We don’t have to continue down this path, and we don’t have to subject our children to the ongoing horror of firearm violence in America,” Dr. Murthy stated.

“It will take the collective commitment of our nation to turn the tide.”

Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, whose research is cited in the report, was a founding member of the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearms Policy. This group helped establish “red flag laws,” which allow courts to temporarily prevent those in crisis from accessing guns. Such laws are now in place in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

“Guns have taken on a symbolic role, as kind of a rail in the culture wars, and it’s a very divisive issue,” he told the BBC.

“But if we start with one square inch of common ground, I think that is an important step.”

Dr. Swanson, a sociology and psychiatry professor at Duke University, emphasizes the importance of asking the right questions and conducting informed research to develop evidence-based policies.

“We have to actually make some headway in terms of changing the culture around guns and, if you look at public health history, there’s a precedent for that,” he said, referencing previous public health efforts on seatbelt safety and smoking.

“Now people get in their car and, no matter what their politics are, put their seatbelts on. They don’t do it because there’s a law. They do it because it just feels natural, because our culture has changed.”

Despite the support from ten leading national medical associations for Dr. Murthy’s report, conservative pushback was immediate. The National Rifle Association (NRA), the nation’s most prominent gun lobby, criticized the report on social media, calling it “an extension of the Biden Administration’s war on law-abiding gun owners.”

Dr. Murthy’s declaration of gun violence as a public health crisis aims to shift the narrative from political debate to public health concern. The report calls for comprehensive strategies and policies to address the issue, drawing on successful public health interventions from the past. Despite resistance from certain political factions, the hope is to create safer communities and reduce the devastating impact of gun violence on American lives.

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