Texas School Shooting: Yes, Gun Violence Is a Health Crisis

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Experts are urging us to reconsider how we view gun violence, as it is a serious health crisis that results in the loss of thousands of lives each year. Andrew Lichtenstein/Getty Images
  • There are approximately 38,000 gun deaths annually in the United States each year, and more than 100 gun fatalities each day in the United States.
  • Despite the many deaths and lingering effects of gunshot wounds on the health, and the psychological impact that a gun injury or death can have on a family or community, gun violence is treated as a criminal or political justice issue, rather than a health problem.
  • Many experts say there’s a great need to begin reframing the impact of gun violence as a medical issue, not a political one.

Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old gunman, entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde (Texas) on Tuesday and shot and killed 19 children and two teachers.

According to reports from Associated PressThe gunman used an AR-style rifle that he legally bought days prior to the attack.

AP also reports that Ramos had shared photos of the two rifles on social media, where he’d also hinted that he was planning the attack, writing that “kids should watch out.”

This attack is the most deadly school shooting in America since December 2012, when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, Connecticut.

The rampage is also part of a worrying trend in recent years that’s seen gun violence increase across the county.

While high-profile mass shootings like the most recent one in Texas understandably grab the world’s attention, less-highlighted, smaller-scale incidents of gun violence nationwide have continued to make this a central health threat endemic to American daily life.

Healthline spoke with experts about the pressing threat of gun violence in this country, how it’s a public health concern, and ways to raise awareness in order to enact needed change.

Gun violence in and of itself certainly isn’t a phenomenon endemic solely to the U.S., but the statistics are worrying when compared to the rest of the world.

Globally, an average of 2,000 people are injured each day and 500 die. In total, there were 1.4million deaths linked to firearms between 2012-2016. according to Amnesty International.

What about domestically, though?

The United States has more than 100 gun-related deaths per day and 38,000 annually. according to GiffordsGabby Giffords, a former U.S. Representative, co-founded.

A new 2022 reportThe Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions dives deep into the data on firearm deaths from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This data is from 2020 and is the most current available.

Johns Hopkins’s analysis revealed that overall 2020 firearm-related deaths totaled 45,222 — an increase of 15 percent from the previous year.

This is the highest number of firearm statistics ever collected by the CDC, which began recording them in 1968.

To put this number in perspective, each day, an average of 124 people were killed by gun violence. In 2020, firearm homicides saw an additional 35 percent increase, which means that there were 5,000 more gun violence deaths than in 2019. according to a Johns Hopkins press release.

A 2022 analysisThe New England Journal of Medicine published the same CDC data and found that gun violence had also overtaken car accidents as the leading cause of youth deaths in 2020. Researchers found a 29.5 percent increase in gun-related deaths in U.S youth aged 19 and younger between 2019 and 2020.

This was “more than twice as high as the relative increase in the general population,” reads the paper.

Given that issues of mortality, lingering health impacts of a gunshot wound, and the psychological impact a gun death or injury can have on a household or community at large, why isn’t this discussed as a public health crisis on par with the current pandemic impacting our lives nationwide?

It partly has to do with the fact that gun violence is framed as a “political or criminal justice problem,” said Dr. Megan RanneyMPH, FACEP. Associate professor of emergency medicine at Rhode Island Hospital/Alpert Medical School. Director and assistant dean of Brown Institute for Translational Science.

“The forgotten underlying issue is when someone pulls the trigger, it causes health problems — the pulling of a trigger is no different than someone eating unhealthily or using substances or driving without a seatbelt on,” said Ranney, who’s a practicing emergency room physician as well as health policy researcher.

Ranney, who is the chief research officer at AFFIRM at the Aspen InstituteHealthline spoke to a non-profit called, which addresses gun violence using a public health approach. They said that it relies on data, education and collaboration directly with community stakeholders.

It’s been effective in the past with other health crises.

She pointed to how we’re addressing car crash deaths as a public health problem.

This country saw a decrease in car accident deaths of over 70% due to seatbelt enforcement and public education campaigns about driving drunk.

Ranney also spoke out about the early days of the HIV epidemic in the country and how advances in science, better medications, and awareness campaigns that focused on behavioral interventions reduced the number of people who died from complications of HIV during the peak of the epidemic.

Ranney stated that as a nation, we must do the same for firearm use.

We must shift the discussion from policy and criminal justice to gun rights and gun control discussions. We need to instead focus on harm reduction, identifying risks factors for gun injury or death, and developing education and clear messaging.

To prevent this, however, many roadblocks have been erected.

Gun violence research took place from December 2020 to December 2020 receive federal funding — the first time after a 20-year gap.

Ranney stated that the inability to develop evidence-based programs made possible by the absence of federal support for gun violence prevention in this country makes it almost impossible to create meaningful programs.

It’s important to note that the issue of gun violence as a public health concern is complex and multi-faceted.

As with most public health crises — take COVID-19, for example — the umbrella issue of “gun violence” touches on many interlocking facets of our society at large.

Gun violence can manifest itself in many ways.

It’s said that nearly every person in this country will know at least one victim of gun violence over the course of their lifetime, according to Giffords.

The advocacy organization reports that the majority — 59 percent — of gun deaths are suicides, followed by homicides at 38 percent. Police shootings account for 1.3 percent, unintentional shootings are at 1.2 percent, and 0.9 percent make up “undetermined incidents,” Giffords reports.

Gun violence, just like other public health crises can expose inequalities and fissures in our society.

Unarmed Black civilians 5 times more likelyto be shot and killed in police custody than their unarmed white peers.

Gun homicides have a high impact on Black people in this country, with Black men comprising more than half — 52 percent — of all gun homicide victims, Giffords reports.

The report from Johns Hopkins reveals young Black males — who represent just two percent of the total U.S. population — made up 38 percent of total gun homicide deaths in 2020.

These statistics are very grim for Black teenagers and children. Johns Hopkins’s analysis reveals 52 percent of deaths of Black teenagers between 15 and 19 years old were killed as a result of gun violence. The analysis found Black young men from 15 to 34 years old were “over 20 times” more likely to die from a gun compared to their white male peers. The same data shows that gun homicides among Black women have increased by 49 percent from 2019 to 2020.

Gun violence also plays a significant role in domestic violence.

Domestic violence victims are 5 times more likelyTo be killed if their abuser is carrying a gun, while U.S. females are 21 times more likelyTo be shot and killed by guns than their peers in high-income countries.

Robyn ThomasHealthline spoke to Veronica Giffords Law Center’s executive director. She said that looking at gun violence from a public health perspective requires that we approach these complex issues holistically. Ranney reiterated that this includes both prevention and treatment.

This means handling each of these big issues underneath the umbrella of “gun violence” with sensitivity and nuance.

The specific issue of suicide is not as easy to deal with as homicide.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all conversation — each of these issues require unique discussions being had between advocacy organizations, doctors, public health officials, lawmakers, and cultural leaders.

Thomas said that organizations like the one she works for are “very committed” to working with medical and public health professionals.

Thomas expressed optimism about the way that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, then Vice President-elect, would address gun violence as a national issue in a 2021 interview.

“I’ve heard them speak very clearly with their commitment to reducing gun violence, and now we’ll have both a Senate and a House [of Representatives] that will support gun violence prevention legislation,” Thomas added.

“Now, it’s important that they all be held accountable to make those changes, ensuring they have the information about these policies and programs and the public support they need to move this forward,” she said.

We have witnessed the plight of gun violence continue to sweep America, and we have not seen any political action to address it.

On May 14, 2022, a white supremacy-driven, racially motivated shooting at a Tops grocery in Buffalo, New York killed 10 people and left three more injured. All 10 victims were Black. All 11 shots were Black.

After visiting the site of the hate crime and offering words of condolence at a Buffalo community center, President Biden didn’t speak optimistically that gun reform was possible in the current Washington political climate.

“Not much on executive action [that I can enact]. I’ve got to convince the Congress that we should go back to what I passed years ago,” Biden told reporters at Buffalo Niagara International Airport. “It’s going to be very difficult. It’s going to be very difficult. But I’m not going to give up trying.”

“We have enough laws on the books to deal with what’s going on now,” Biden continued. “We just have to deal with it. The country must look in the mirror and face reality. Domestic terror is a problem. It’s real,” Biden said, as reported by NEWS10 ABC out of Albany, NY.

For her part, Thomas added that one of the “sad side effects” of the current era still marked by the ravages of the pandemic and this rolling wave of violence is that we’ve collectively witnessed huge increases in gun purchasing and gun violence that seem to be unabated.

“Communities have also been impacted by more domestic violence and suicide, people are depressed…and it’s more urgent than ever to take steps to address gun violence with this administration and the Congress that sits behind them,” Thomas stressed.

“We know they all have a lot on their plate, but we think this should be one of their absolute priorities,” she added back in 2021.

One of the most troubling aspects of America’s scourge of gun violence is how so much of it is motivated by hate crimes targeting particularly vulnerable communities.

The recent Buffalo mass shooting was just one of many examples of white supremacist-generated attacks against people of color in the U.S. According to NEWS10 ABC, the shooter at Tops supermarket posted an internet manifesto in which he specifically blamed white supremacy for the shootings.

The Brady Plan reports that 56,130 hate crimes were committed in the U.S. “that involved the use of a gun” from the years 2010 to 2016. The wave of mass shootings that have been a horrifying reality for all too many Americans often are tied to hate incidents — whether fueled by racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia, among others.

One notable example is the 2016 Pulse Nightclub Shooting in Orlando, Florida. In which a gunman shot and killed 49 and injured 53 others at the LGBTQIA+ Space, it was a prominent example. According to The Brady Plan it is currently the most horrific hate crime against LGBTQIA+ persons in U.S history.

Receiving less press than the mass shooting in Buffalo was a shooting in Dallas, Texas, taking place days before that wounded three Asian women in a hair salon in the city’s Koreatown neighborhood.

A suspect was arrested and his girlfriend told police that he has “delusions that the Asian mob is after him or attempting to harm him,” reports NPRThese are the alleged racist motives behind the shooting.

This, of course, brought back the horrible 2021 mass shootingThis led to the murder of six Asian women in three Atlanta metro area spas over the course a single night.

Antisemitism is also a factor in the motivations for mass shootings in America. The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) was the victim of the worst antisemitic attack on American soil in 2018. In 2018, a gunman opened fire on 11 worshippers and injured six more. according to USA Today.

In all of these examples, different prejudices coupled with America’s still-unchecked gun violence problem resulted in devastating mass shootings targeting specific vulnerable groups.

As hate crimes motivated by anti-LGBTQIA+, racist, and other sentiments continue to persist, it creates an ominous storm. Mass shootings are hitting already vulnerable groups in American society and are susceptible to negative impacts from other health crises.

Ranney said that when discussing gun violence from a public health perspective, it’s important not to get too mired in the political and policy debate, especially for the media and cultural commentators who bring it to the public consciousness.

She explained that policy is crucial but it has to be done with care to make sure it doesn’t negatively affect some of the most vulnerable groups in this country.

It all comes down to promoting effective interventions at the local level.

Ranney cited programs that target young people with a history of fighting, knowing that these fights are often a precursor for firearm violence.

She stated that suicide education and prevention are important areas. This is especially true considering that for most people who attempt suicide, a firearm will be their first choice.

She said there’s a parallel to resistance of COVID-19 prevention when it comes to resistance to having these conversations around guns.

Many Americans might assume they’re unaffected personally by gun violence.

She mentioned very public events like the attempted assassination Giffords in a suburb just outside Tucson, Arizona, 10 years ago, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, Newtown, Connecticut, as moments that woken some Americans up to the reality of gun violence.

However, the same attention hasn’t always been paid to the stark realities of gun violence in Black and brown communities. News cameras and political spotlights aren’t often centered on these communities in a sensitive way.

She pointed out that this can be a blind spot in how we address gun violence, which is a public health risk.

Facilitating dialogue between medical and policy officials from very different backgrounds is one way to facilitate these conversations.

Northwell Health hosted its 2nd annual conference in December 2020. Gun Violence Prevention ForumThe conference brought together a broad range of experts and leaders to address gun violence as a major public issue.

The event was made virtual by COVID-19 and attracted 1,300 people.

Michael Dowling, president and chief executive officer of Northwell Health, told Healthline it’s necessary to hold events like this one that frame gun violence as a public health crisis because it’s one that still goes woefully under-discussed.

He stated that if there were any other diseases or health issues that were affecting more than 40,000 Americans per year, all medical professionals would have to discuss it.

“I do believe we have an obligation to treat it as a public health issue,” Dowling said.

He echoed both Ranney and Thomas that politics — and the partisan debates it inspires — tend to take up all the oxygen in the room and prevent gun violence from being framed as the health crisis that it is.

“I think it’s been politicized so much. I’ve talked to some of my friends around the country and know they have the same belief systems as mine, but it’s an issue they’re unwilling to take a public stance on because they live in areas where if you say anything about guns, then you are ‘an enemy,’” Dowling explained. “The NRA [National Rifle Association] is very, very powerful.”

He stated that some of his peers as health administrators in other parts of the country, which might be more politically influenced by the NRA than the New York metropolitan area, might be less willing to host a forum such as this one.

Dowling stated that there was one area in which the medical community could be a help. canTake cues form politics. Build coalitions to have these kinds of conversations, brainstorm solutions, and create effective preventive steps. Encourage gun safety and health.

He did not just mention car safety, but also smoking, a health issue that was opposed to by special interest groups as well as political players.

“I’m a big believer that we can have different viewpoints converge, but it requires logical people and logical questions. It’s all about education, you learn for example from others,” Dowling said.

“Most gun owners support what we are talking about here,” he added. “Most people who are gun owners understand it’s a public health issue, it’s not a debate that is always existing on the fringes of the far left and the far right.”

From a policy standpoint, Thomas said it’s been frustrating to see gun control legislation constantly be stymied by Congress. She cited the Biden era as an example of gun control measures that passed through the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives but fell short in the Republican-majority Senate.

Similar to the past, a slim Democrat majority has failed in the Senate to make any positive movements for gun control.

Thomas said the time is to act is now and it can’t be something that keeps getting pushed aside.

“It is long overdue for the federal government to be looking at gun violence as a public health crisis, as an epidemic,” she said.

And Thomas isn’t alone.

In fact, the American Medical Association officially declared gun violence “a public health crisis” in in 2016 and over the past 20 years has developed a number of policy recommendations to reduce firearm injuries, trauma, and deaths, including:

“People are dying, and it is not a problem that can wait,”Thomas said.

She said that she’s “excited” about the prospect of what can happen if there’s support for research that’s based on public health data, and then see that inform new laws that can make a positive impact.

“Firearms might be part of the heritage or your culture. It could be an important part of your heritage, so it is important to keep them safe. [But also] be aware of risk factors and what those might be for your family members and yourself,” Ranney said, when discussing helpful ways to approach gun safety with gun owners.

“We should take it out of this political debate and reframe it as a health problem,” she added.

Jase Peeples also reports.

Source: Health Line

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