At the six-month marking of the Dec. 14 Newtown, Conn., elementary school massacre, it's relevant to step back and see where we are in responding to tragedy. As I wrote here in March, physicians in Newtown and around the country are taking a renewed look at gun violence as a public health issue.
The statistics continue to be concerning. The Institute of Medicine estimates that there were 105,000 gun related injuries or deaths in 2010, with deaths estimated at a third of that total. With children, there are twice as many homicides as suicides; that's reversed for adults.
Gun deaths, whether accidental or intentional in children, are a leading cause of death. In theory, these are preventable deaths.
Since the Newtown tragedy, federal attempts to pass background failed their first attempt in the Senate, but by all accounts will be back for another vote. In any case, that's not the only endeavor underway.
The American Pediatric Surgical Association, the American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all endorsed firearms prevention policy similar to the principles endorsed by my own group, United Physicians of Newtown. They all call for treating gun deaths as a public health issue, working on mental health issues and advocating for background checks, assault weapons bans and high capacity magazine restrictions.
These are the physicians that treat the kids who are shot. It's no coincidence that they see the public health issues involved as clearly as they do. Newtown may have been the catalyst, but gun injuries are a daily event throughout this country, and Newtowners and physicians everywhere are acutely aware that the issue isn't just about Newtown. Meanwhile, the Newtown families themselves continue to be active advocates of change, and the doctors continue to support them.
To better see the issue as a public health problem, the Institute of Medicine has proposed a 3-5 year research project to better understand the causes of gun violence and steps that can be taken to curb injuries and loss of life. Topics to be covered include the characteristics of gun violence, risk and protective factors, prevention and other interventions, gun safety technology, and the influence of video games and other media. More and better data can only enlighten.
When Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) signed legislation granting drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants (one of several governors on both sides of the aisle to do so this year), he said, "This is not about politics. This is about making roads safer."
He added, "This is good for everybody."
Would that he had kept that in mind when he vetoed background checks this month. For the same thing holds: working to decrease lives lost due to gun violence is not about politics. It's about making people safer.
And I'd add, "Saving lives is good for everybody."
Greg Dworkin is a pediatric pulmonologist practicing in Danbury and living in Newtown, Conn. He is a contributing editor for Daily Kos, and has worked with the White House, CDC and HHS in two administrations on public health issues. He is on the steering committee of the United Physicians of Newtown. Follow him on Twitter at @DemFromCT.
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