OPED: Gun violence is also a public health problem

president, Pennsylvania Medical Society

Through a highly publicized announcement, President Barack Obama using his presidential powers plans to tighten control and enforcement of firearms in the United States in response to growing concerns about gun violence and gun safety.

Measures within the President’s initiative include background checks, expanded registration, additional examiners, and increased funding for enforcement and technology, as well as $500 million for mental health initiatives. President Obama anticipates that these measures will keep firearms from falling into the wrong hands.

The issue of gun safety is a topic that has pressed Pennsylvania physicians into deep debate which ultimately resulted in the Pennsylvania Medical Society adopting related sensible gun safety policy in 2013.  This policy focuses on gun safety as a public health problem worthy of increased research on how to best prevent gun violence and promote gun safety.

If public health campaigns can positively impact smoking-related deaths and car accident injuries, why can’t the same work to reduce injuries and deaths due to guns?

Gun violence is a crime and every effort should be made to help our law enforcement professionals. However, the epidemic of gun violence is much deeper, and ignoring the public health side of this issue is a mistake. A more-comprehensive look at gun safety is needed.

For example, guns are involved in a large percentage of suicides in our country. When a suicide occurs, often friends and family ask themselves what they could have done to prevent it.

The answer may be simple … understand the signs of suicide and the ways to safely store guns and keep them out of the hands of individuals who will misuse them.

Physicians and other public health experts will tell you that there’s a risk of keeping guns in the home “particularly in the presence of children, adolescents, people with dementia, people with mental illnesses including substance use disorders who are at risk of harming themselves or others, and people who abuse children or partners.”

In other words, gun safety is a public health problem.

Let’s not forget the public health side of this national problem.  Pennsylvania physicians encourage President Obama to continue to support and expand public health campaigns that address the important aspects of gun safety nationwide.

Scott Shapiro MD, is president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society and a practicing cardiologist at Abington Medical Specialists in Montgomery County.