Surgeon General declares gun violence a public health crisis

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has issued an advisory declaring gun violence as a public health crisis - Photo by UnSplash +

Dr. Murthy hopes a public health approach can be taken to protect kids’ lives

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has issued an advisory declaring that gun violence is officially a public health crisis

As the leading cause of death for children ages 1-19, Murthy has put together this message in an effort to spread awareness about strategies for firearm injury and violence prevention, focusing on the well-being of children, families, and communities. 

“Surgeon General reports are renowned publications that take an evidence-based approach to our nation’s most urgent public health issues,” said Dr. Joseph Sakran, chief medical officer at Brady, an organization dedicated to fighting gun violence. “Seeing as firearms are now the leading cause of death for children and teens in the U.S., there’s arguably no public health issue that’s more urgent or that warrants the commission of a surgeon General report more than gun violence. 

Adopting a public health approach

In the report, Murthy is advocating for a public health approach to the gun violence issue in the U.S.

“A public health approach is designed to prevent and reduce harm by changing the conditions and circumstances that contribute to risk of firearm violence as measured by death, injuries, as well as the reverberating mental health and emotional impacts detailed in this advisory,” Murthy wrote.

“This cross-sector approach complements the work of clinical health care providers to treat those who are victims and survivors of violence and the work of law enforcement to hold perpetrators accountable. To be successful, this approach must include everyone, from firearm owners to health workers to community leaders.” 

What does this look like? 

One aspect of this plan is to invest more money in gun violence prevention research. This includes: 

  • Improving data sources and data collection to inform prevention activities 

  • Expanding research to examine short-term and long-term outcomes of firearm violence and evaluating specific prevention strategies 

  • Conducting implementation science research to improve effectiveness of prevention strategies 

Murthy is also advocating for community risk reduction and education strategies, which include: 

  • Implementing community violence interventions to support populations with increased risk of firearm violence involvement 

  • Incorporating organizational violence prevention and emergency preparedness into safety programs 

  • Encouraging health systems to facilitate education on safe and secure firearm storage 

  • Addressing structural determinants that increase the risk of firearm violence 

Lastly, the report includes tangible prevention strategies that lawmakers can start implementing: 

  • Requiring safe and secure firearm storage, including child access prevention laws 

  • Implementing universal background checks and expanding purchaser licensing laws 

  • Implementing effective firearm removal policies 

  • Banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines for civilian use 

  • Creating safer conditions in public places related to firearm use and carry. 

  • Treating firearms like other regulated consumer products  

“This advisory not only sounds the alarm for all Americans, but it signals there must be greater investments in research and violence prevention solutions,” Sakran said.

“Historically, we have seen how the release of Surgeon General reports on public health issues such as the dangers of smoking ignited a wave of policy, legal, and public health initiatives that saved countless American lives and in this case led to deprogramming our nation from the tobacco industry’s lies. We hope this report will have the same resounding impact on the gun violence epidemic.”

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