The Sonoma County Gazette: Community News Magazine
Sonoma County Gazette
| more

Photo Gallery

Gun Violence is a Public Health Crisis


Wellness Corner - June 2016
Gun Violence is a Public Health Crisis

By Dr. Veronica Jordan

My sweet five year old boy cannot help but be attracted to guns – little toy guns on action figures, water guns, and sticks shaped like guns – and it drives me crazy. It drives me particularly crazy in moments like these – days after the mass shooting in Orlando in which 49 men and women were tragically killed and as many were injured by gun violence.

While I am blessed to live in a safe neighborhood in a relatively safe city, and while I like to assume my own children are safe in our gun-free home, I am forever impacted by my exposure to gun violence during medical school. As a student, I spent eight weeks on the trauma surgery service at San Francisco General Hospital. There wasn’t a night that passed without a young person (usually a young man, almost always of dark skin color) admitted with a gunshot wound. During those eight weeks and for months after, I had nightmares of being on a ventilator, of crossfire, of bullet wounds through intestines and hearts and spleens.

And yet, I also remember fondly the chief resident at the time – a young talented surgeon who gave each student a copy of an article about the impact of gun violence in the inner city, who taught us about the structural violence that tended the bloody reality we were living. 

As a family doctor, I have the honor and privilege to ask some pretty private questions of my patients – questions about their sex lives, their mental health, their substance use. And, as part of my pediatric well visits, it is also my commitment to assess risk for gun violence. Do you have a gun in your home? Where do you keep it? Is it stored safely? Could any child have access to it?

Much of the work I do as a physician is individualized, but recommendations I make are grounded in large population-based studies. We cannot know that aspirin prevents heart attacks or that Zika causes small-brained babies without such studies. In addition, I cannot ignore the impact that individual health decisions have on the greater public health. 

Guns are no different. Guns kill 91 Americans every day – as many people as cars. Mass shootings account for less than 2% of gun deaths. Recently unsecured guns have been involved in several toddler shootings. It makes me very angry that guns have not been made a Public Health priority and that money and politics have basically led to a ban on large gun violence studies for the last 20 years. Here’s why:

In 1996, The National Rifle Association (NRA) accused the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of lobbying for gun control. That year, there was a scuffle over $2.6 million of CDC funding and when the money was finally reinstated, this sentence was placed into the funding bill: “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” 

And so ended federally funded research on gun violence in the United States of America. Twenty years ago. From that point, CDC funding for firearm prevention fell by 96% between 1996 and 2013. And it has yet to recover.

In 2013, after the Sandy Hook shootings, President Obama officially ended the research ban by executive order, but the CDC has still not resumed its firearm research – responding to probes that there is no funding available to fund the research and so the research is not being done.

In the days after the Orlando massacre, professional physician groups representing 426,000 physicians called for an end to gun violence and the American Medical Association called chronic gun violence a “public health crisis”. Public health crises merit federally funded studies, large scale analysis, and well-informed action.

Write your politician. Stand on street corners. Ask your neighbors to do the same. Call for a lift of this ban on research on gun violence accompanied by an influx of money. We need to know what we don’t know so we can change what we already know about gun violence: THIS MUST STOP.