Lessons from Public Health

As we look back on a year of Congressional inaction to reduce deaths from gun violence and a year of rhetoric from NRA leaders that seems increasingly to depart from reality, I have been thinking about the remarkable impact that public health and public policy experts have had on motor vehicle deaths in the last few decades.  In the last 20 years, deaths per mile driven have decreased by 80%.  Yet in the same period, the only impact we have seen on gun shot deaths is from improvements in trauma surgery.
We can do better than this.  As physicians, we understand both the public health aspects of gun violence and understand that this is a problem that will have to be tackled from many sides.  Poverty and hopelessness play a huge role as does lack of access to mental health services.  Yet just as air bags, anti-lock brakes, seat belts, rumble strips, and anti-drunk driving campaigns have each played a role in decreasing deaths from car accidents, we can see that much more can be done to reduce deaths from gun violence in our communities.
Congress has clearly demonstrated that they lack the motivation and political courage to take this issue on — today.  Of course this was once their response to the tobacco industry as well, until C. Everett Koop and other physician leaders stepped forward and led the way.  Moneyed extremists have so far been able to convince Congress to step away from this issue despite the support of the majority of Americans, the majority of gun owners, and even the majority of NRA members for action to stop the tens of thousands of deaths that result from our current policies.  Our job is to make sure they cannot continue to back away from their responsibilities.  Many thanks for all that you do to speak out on this issue.  We must continue to speak clearly and passionately until it is no longer the norm for children to die on our streets and in their homes because the adults in their lives and our elected leaders have failed them.