PUBLIC HEALTH
August 19, 2019

Getting Serious About Gun Violence

Gun violence kills nearly as many youth as automobile accidents do. A special issue on gun violence offers some proven ways to reduce the danger.

Three mass shootings in less than a week have put guns back in the news. In July four people were shot and killed at a Northern California food festival. Only a few days later, 22 died and 24 were injured in a shooting in El Paso, Texas. Nine more people were killed in Dayton, Ohio the next day.

Australia has had just three mass shootings in over 20 years. And while the United States may or may not want to emulate their approach, Australia's results do show that solutions are possible. But officials in the United States seem to be more comfortable ignoring the problem. They have even passed laws prohibiting gun research.

Studying car crashes has led to mandatory seatbelt laws and other safety improvements. But research on gun violence has lagged far behind.

Back in 1996, when Australia changed its gun laws, the United States was passing a different kind of legislation. Congress specifically forbade the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from spending money on or conducting any research that could be used to promote gun control, emphasizing this by eliminating all funding for firearms research. This has had a chilling effect on gun violence research. It's hard to solve a problem when you don't study it.

Despite the funding restrictions, some research on gun violence has been conducted. The Journal of Behavioral Medicine has just devoted an entire issue to it.

Of particular interest is a series of five review articles on firearm injuries in children and teens.

Gun violence kills nearly as many youth as automobile accidents do. The studies conclude that to come up with programs to protect kids and teens, we need to gather a lot more information on what actually are the most effective ways to prevent these injuries.

And for those who think studying gun violence won't make a difference, Rebecca Cunningham, the principal investigator for the Firearm Safety Among Children and Teens Consortium (FACTS) and a professor in the University of Michigan Department of Emergency Medicine, points out that infectious diseases were once the leading cause of death in children and teens. Research that led to vaccines and antibiotics changed that.

Similarly, studying car crashes has led to mandatory seatbelt laws and other safety improvements. But research on gun violence has lagged far behind.

Laws that charge adults with a crime if their guns were taken or used by children do seem to be effective at preventing children from gaining access to guns and reducing accidental gun deaths, the studies found. Other recommended steps to lower youth gun injuries and deaths include counseling about safe gun storage during doctor visits and providing locking devices to gun owners.

The researchers suggest that firearm owners become partners in the development of future gun safety strategies and research, similar to what was done when children's car seats were being developed.

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