Gun Violence is a Public Health Crisis. Here’s Why.
This week, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) and the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence (Ed Fund) have joined the American Public Health Association (APHA) in marking National Public Health Week. Throughout the week, we have engaged in a robust discussion about gun violence and the evidence-based policies that can prevent the firearm injuries and deaths our country sees every day.
In 2017, nearly 40,000 Americans died from gun violence — 109 every single day. Americans are 25 times more likely to die by firearm-related homicide and eight times more likely to die by firearm-related suicide compared to other economically developed nations. If an illness were killing our friends, family, and neighbors at such an alarming rate, we would not hesitate to label it a crisis.
And that’s what gun violence is. It’s a public health crisis.
Examine the numbers alone. Think about what a group of 40,000 people looks like — the enormity of that number. Nearly 40,000 in a single year — more than the capacity of Fenway Park. If the numbers aren’t convincing enough, consider the impact of gun violence in the following areas:
Its Negative Effect on Community Health:
Gun violence has an adverse impact on community health. Communities cannot thrive when they are exposed to horrific acts of gun violence — whether such violence occurs in the form of mass shootings or day-to-day gun violence.
Gun violence is traumatic; widespread exposure to such violence is linked to a number of poor community health indicators, including high rates of antisocial behavior, depression, substance use, post-traumatic stress disorder, and an increased likelihood of future violence.
Healthy communities are communities free from gun violence. We must work with advocates on the ground to implement community-based solutions to gun violence, provide support to survivors, and address both the direct causes and the upstream factors contributing to gun violence.
The Relationship Between Guns and Suicide:
Suicides comprise six out ten gun deaths in the United States, and firearms are the most frequently used and most lethal method of suicide.
The period of acute suicidal crisis is usually short-lived; if a gun is readily available during these moments, a temporary crisis usually becomes a permanent loss.
Reducing access to firearms during suicidal crises can save lives. Policies like extreme risk laws can prevent suicide by empowering family members to temporarily remove firearms from loved ones who are behaving dangerously.
Its Disproportionate Impact on Communities of Color:
Communities of color — especially young black men — are disproportionately affected by gun violence. According to the CDC, non-Hispanic black men aged 15 to 34 are over 20 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than their non-Hispanic white counterparts, and firearm homicide is the leading cause of death for young black men.
Poverty, inequality, and isolation contribute to the disproportionate rates of firearm violence in communities of color. We must address both firearm availability and the underlying socioeconomic factors that make violence more likely to occur. Policies which promote community health and programs that engage impacted communities can help prevent gun violence.
Its Impact on Victims of Domestic Violence:
More than half of all women murdered in the United States are killed by an intimate partner with a gun, and the chance of being murdered by an abusive partner increases five-fold when there is a gun in the home. Even when a weapon is not discharged, abusers often use guns to terrorize and manipulate their victims.
Despite the clear risk domestic violence presents, state and federal laws still make it far too easy for abusers to obtain firearms and keep the guns they already own, even when they are legally prohibited.
We must work to prevent both fatal and non-fatal intimate partner violence committed with firearms. We can save lives by strengthening domestic violence laws at both the state and federal levels, closing loopholes that allow domestic abusers to keep their firearms, and helping local stakeholders implement existing laws.
As National Public Health Week comes to a close, we encourage our followers, partners, and legislators to recognize gun violence as the public health crisis it is and commit to addressing gun violence in all its forms. We vow to never stop striving to improve the health of our communities and our country. Together, we can make gun violence rare and abnormal.