Doctor Organization Declares Gun Violence 'Public Health Threat'

By Perry, Susan | MinnPost.com, April 11, 2014 | Go to article overview

Doctor Organization Declares Gun Violence 'Public Health Threat'


Perry, Susan, MinnPost.com


Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama's surgeon general nominee, has asserted "guns are a health care issue," based on treating gunshot victims.

He's not alone, which became even clearer on Thursday when the American College of Physicians (ACP), the country's second-largest physician group, issued a new policy recommendations to reducing gun- related injuries and death.

"Firearm violence is not only a criminal justice issue but also a public health threat," the group's position paper states. "A comprehensive, multifaceted approach is necessary to reduce the burden of firearm-related injuries and deaths on individuals, families, communities, and society in general."

And that burden is enormous, as the paper details. Each year, gun- related homicides, suicides and accidents kill more than 32,000 Americans. That's about 88 deaths each day -- the equivalent of "a good-sized airplane crash every three days," as Dr. Molly Cooke, the president of the ACP, told Washington Post reporter Lenny Bernstein.

Another 73,000 people are injured every year from gunshot wounds. Many of those wounds lead to permanent and often devastating disabilities.

Number #1 in the world

The actual number of injuries is probably much higher, the ACP paper acknowledges. Research suggests that current reporting practices cause many gun-related injuries to be misclassified, particularly when children are the victims.

Furthermore, U.S. gun-related death rates still remain the highest in the industrialized world.

Though the rate of gun-related murders may have decreased by almost half since its 1993 peak, the number of gun-related deaths is down a smaller 20 percent (39,595 in 1993 versus 31,672 in 2010).

Some studies have reported that guns can serve a protective function, but the ACP notes that evidence suggests that guns are much more likely to end up killing or maiming someone for a reason that has nothing to do with self-defense.

One study involving data from three U.S. cities found, for example, that "for every time a gun was used in self-defense or for a legally justifiable reason, there were 4 accidental shootings, 7 criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides."

Witnesses to the devastation

Why should physicians care about firearm injury prevention?

"Whether it is a 75-year-old widower who commits suicide; a 17- year-old who accidentally shoots himself; a 20-year-old bystander killed on a city street; or a horrific mass shooting, such as the one that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, physicians witness first- hand the devastating consequences of firearm violence for victims and their families," the ACP explains in its position paper.

The group also notes that its own ethics manual states that "physicians should help the community and policy-makers recognize and address the social and environmental causes of disease, including human rights concerns, discrimination poverty, and violence. …

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