Gun violence is a preventable social disease that has refused to go away despite the existence of strict gun ownership regulations. Every year, hundreds of thousands of victims of gun violence are either killed, disabled, or inflicted with physical injuries. The trend has continued for many decades while the current regulations only focus on deterrence and punishment. The reactionary approach that often characterizes the fight against gun violence has proven insufficient and should be complemented with rigorous and sufficiently-funded public health research.
Epidemiological and social science research on the social and behavioral factors that influence firearm violence ought to be encouraged by lifting research restrictions and channeling more government funds to the cause. The surveillance data and the evaluation of intervention programmes by different public health organizations will inform a multidisciplinary solution to the problem of gun violence in the U.S.
Context and importance of the problem
Gun ownership in the United States is undoubtedly a constitutional right. Despite the nation having gun ownership laws, gun violence has continued to claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. In 2014, the number of people who used privately owned firearms to commit suicide was 21, 167 while an additional 11, 424 were victims of homicide. During the same year, 672 people lost their lives through unintentional shootings.1 On average, 100,000 non-fatal and fatal injuries are inflicted on U.S. citizens through private firearms every year.2 With such high deaths occurring in a country that has an abundance of criminal and civil laws to regulate gun ownership and to prosecute perpetrators of gun violence, society can no longer rely on reactive responses. As the World Health Organization reported in 2014, three-quarters of homicides in the Americas region are attributed to gun violence.3 Across the world, gun violence by private gun owners is a threat to the health and safety of the public as it increases mortality and morbidity, uses a lot of health resources, and subject families and individuals to poor determinants of health. The concept of gun violence prevention has remained elusive despite the evidence that epidemiological data can be used to promote research, surveillance, and programme evaluation for the prevention of this social disease.
Critique of policy option(s)
The current civil and criminal laws are important for regulating gun ownership, but they fall short of addressing the underlying factors in firearm violence. While background checks and punitive measures are important components of the laws, gun violence is a social disease that emanates from both individual and community-level factors.1 The failure of the current regulations to incorporate a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach to gun violence prevention is worrying because it leaves important behavioral and social issues unattended to. To be precise, the involvement of public health professionals such as epidemiologists in creating mitigation and prevention measures has been weak. Government restrictions on health surveillance research coupled with insufficient funding have created a major barrier to accessing vital public data that would inform better policy approaches to the menace of gun violence.1
The fight against firearm violence will only bear fruits if the federal, state, and local governments fully appreciate the role of public health research (epidemiology and social science) in creating effective interventions. It is recommended that the federal government lifts the funding restrictions that have crippled research in firearm violence prevention for many years.1 Additionally, all restrictions imposed on the collection of firearm-related data such as deaths, disabilities, and injuries should be repealed. As a sign of good faith and commitment to uphold the safety of the public, the federal and state governments should allocate sufficient funds to accredited community organizations to facilitate research on the underlying social and behavioral factors in gun violence. The funding should be coupled with the release of important morbidity and mortality data relating to firearm violence so that the researchers can derive and create more knowledge from the data.
Davis, Amy B, et al. The role of epidemiology in firearm violence: A policy brief. International Journal of Epidemiology, 2018; 47(4): 1015-1019 .
Fowler KA, Dahlberg LL, Haileyesus T, Annest JL. Firearm injuries in the United States. Prev Med. 2015; 79: 5–14.
Jacob KS. Global status report on violence prevention 2014. Indian J Med Res. 2016; 143(6): 841.