Approach the gun violence epidemic like we do with coronavirus

Among industrialized nations, only the United States endures the current public health epidemic of firearm-assisted injury and death. In 2018, nearly 40,000 people were shot to death in the U.S., while proponents of the Second Amendment continue to protect it at all costs — fighting even common-sense measures such as limiting access to felons and the mentally ill. On both sides of this debate, opinions are lobbed as facts; these “facts” lacking substantiation or scientific research for verification. All the while, tens of thousands of Americans die annually.

We must study the epidemiology of firearm morbidity and mortality as we do any other public health issue – as we have approached the coronavirus epidemic. It’s time to develop evidence-based strategies for curbing the slaughter working within the constraints of the Second Amendment. We all want our families to be safe and live in a country where they do not have to fear a crazed shooter with a self-destructive agenda. We all want to minimize avoidable accidental firearm injuries.

The automobile industry, collaborating with the government, has utilized safety research to make our cars and roads much safer. Anti-lock brakes, seat belts, and crumple technology save lives every day. Cars are registered and tracked with vehicle identification numbers. Operators are licensed with mandatory periodic training. Those that drive impaired or with health issues are denied driving privileges. The firearm industry must collaborate with the government to adopt a similar approach. Congress must foster this partnership – not obstruct it by blocking firearm safety research. We must fund the scientific and epidemiological research to make firearms and their use as safe as possible. We need best practice policies to keep firearms from the mentally challenged and promote responsible ownership. The United States leads the world in firearm-related homicides and suicides; we must insist our elected officials’ partner with researchers, gun enthusiasts, and the National Rifle Association to make the gun manufacturers accountable to the citizens of this country.

The safety journeys of other major manufacturing industries, such as the automobile industry, provide an excellent template to make firearm ownership and use considerably safer. We must commit the resources to study this epidemic, addressing it with the same tools as we approach any other public health issue. In an editorial, “Unite to end gun violence as you have united to slow the coronavirus,” interim police superintendent Charlie Beck calls on Chicagoans to take the same public health approach to solve the city’s gun violence epidemic as they did to address the coronavirus pandemic. By applying a scientific approach with a focused commitment, we can make gun ownership and use safer – and reduce our city’s and nation’s epidemic of gun-related injury and death.

Charles Nozicka is a pediatric emergency physician.

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