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Sun Nov 29, 2015, 09:51 AM

Gun violence should be treated like a public health problem.

Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, appeared before residents at RiverWoods at Exeter on Nov. 23. Among the many accomplishments he made as governor was his plan to reduce gun violence. In spite of a great deal of opposition he was able to ban assault weapons. I was able to speak with Gov. O'Malley afterwards and made the point that as an emergency physician I viewed gun violence as a public health issue. He agreed that this was not about ideology this is about public health. He said that if the deaths from gun violence were instead deaths from Ebola infections there would be no question about its authenticity as a public health issue.

There are 300 million guns in private hands that are not going away anytime soon. We are not going to eliminate guns in America so we need to figure out how to coexist with them. Can we curb gun violence by learning lessons from public health successes? Can we use the same public health model that helped to reduce motor vehicle injuries and chronic and infectious diseases? It requires drawing on proven, evidence-based strategies that have successfully reduced other public health threats like smoking, car crashes, and accidental poisonings. This is not challenging or interfering with the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Gun violence claims one life every sixteen minutes in the United States. The primary priority of a public health approach requires taking a broad, systemic look at potential causes or risk factors and taking a multipronged approach to solutions. Our past successes in reducing other harmful behaviors and accidents provide a set of evidence-based tools to address the many underlying root causes of gun violence. Policy debates and discussions have largely focused on issues relating to gun ownership, such as banning assault weapons, instituting waiting periods for purchases, and requiring universal background checks. All of these accomplish something but we must acknowledge that gun violence is a public health problem arising from sociocultural, educational, behavioral, and product safety issues that transcend gun ownership alone. Call gun violence evil, call it a mental health issue. But please call it a public health problem and save lives.


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