A public health approach to gun violence

More people in the United States die from gun violence than HIV, Parkinson’s disease, malnutrition, hypertension and other medical conditions, but gun violence receives less funding for research. Medical professionals have been advocating for funding that would empower the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health to research gun violence as a public health crisis.

Treating gun violence like a public health crisis would involve a multi-pronged approach that advocates for policy changes, such as background checks for all gun sales. It would also focus on working with gun owners on how to make gun ownership safer in order to make it harder for children to access guns, which often ends in tragedy. A public health approach would also focus on making it more difficult for individuals struggling with suicidal ideation to access firearms.

One example of an effective public health approach is the response to automobile-related deaths. Vehicles have been made safer through airbags and anti-lock braking, and roads have been made safer through better lighting and signage. Policymakers have enacted laws requiring the use of seatbelts and child safety seats and there has been greater enforcement of drunk driving and speeding laws.

A multi-pronged approach has made motor vehicle deaths drop 45% since 1975. Gun violence prevention advocates received some wonderful news when the federal government spending bill recently released included $25 million to be split between the CDC and NIH to research gun violence. It is the first time in 23 years that such funding has been approved. Advocates hope that the research that is funded will fuel a public health response to gun violence.

A community’s well-being is a key concern throughout the Bible. Jesus’ ministry included the healing of numerous individuals, which added to the health of the overall community. Jeremiah 30:17 finds God promising the restoration of health and healing of wounds to the people of Israel. It is clear that God longs for our communities to be healthy and thriving. Researching gun violence and a public health response are steps to healing for our communities.

Contact your members of Congress and thank them for including funding on gun violence as a part of the spending bill.

John-Michael Cotignola-Pickens is the Criminal Justice Education & Advocacy Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Story originally published on January 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission from Third Way Cafe.

1 Comment

  1. John L. Hobbs

    This MCC Washington Memo post on “A Public Health Approach to Gun Violence” caught my attention! You had me hooked at the first sentence! Good Writing! You make it clear that we need to “empower” the powers that be to create a public health crisis that will facilitate the passage of legislation. Your call to action to contact your local government representative to influence their support is noted. But as you might expect… there are issues

    You state that “gun violence receives less funding for research” that would be correct. But why? That’s because we are talking about the “Dickey Amendment”

    Dickey Amendment


    Wikipedia, although hardly a “no-Bias” source, does get it right in the first sentence. They say:

    “The Dickey Amendment is a provision first inserted as a rider into the 1996 United States federal government omnibus spending bill which mandated that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

    Huh… “advocate or promote gun control” well that sounds reasonable. Gun Control or more correctly Gun Owner Control is a political goal. Not a public health issue. You can fund research on all the violence you care to research, you just can’t create data sets to support a pre determined goal. That should sound very familiar to any Mennonite or any one paying attention to our current political climate.

    Why was the Dickey Amendment even necessary in the first place?? Why did our elected officials spend all that time and energy!? Well because we told them what our Anti Gun Owner friends were going to do. We have quotes:

    Determining the result of “gun violence” research

    Government-funded research was openly biased in the 1990s. CDC officials unabashedly supported gun bans and poured millions of dollars into “research” that was, in fact, advocacy. One of the lead researchers employed in the CDC’s effort was quoted, stating “We’re going to systematically build the case that owning firearms causes deaths.” Another researcher said he envisioned a long-term campaign “to convince Americans that guns are, first and foremost, a public health menace.”

    CDC Quote
    “One CDC official in the 1990s openly told the Washington Post that his goal was to create a public perception of gun ownership as something “dirty, deadly — and banned.”

    You say that “medical professionals have been advocating”. Is this true? Certainly some do, but not all. These guys take note of the Boundary Violations that are necessary to promote a political viewpoint in a medical context.

    Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership

    Doctors in general, are mostly interested in what make folks sick and frankly, what kills them. It is always good to know what the real threats and risks are in our world. Take your first statement for instance. “More people in the United States die from gun violence than HIV, Parkinson’s Disease, malnutrition, hypertension and other medical conditions.” Wow! Those combined are a really big number! And every one is a personal tragedy. Gun Violence must be a REALLY BIG number and an even greater tragedy? But yes, I know you mean each one separately, but is that even true?? Perhaps..but lets look at some of the stuff we do know.

    Deaths of people with HIV in 2017 from Any Cause: 16,350

    Specific mortality rate from HIV in the U.S. in 2017: 5698 deaths

    Deaths by Medical errors: 250,000 to 440,000

    drug overdose Deaths in 2017: 70,237 (good news! It drops to 67,367 in 2018!!)

    Let’s see, let’s use Heroin or just opiates in general, which figure large in overdose deaths. It is illegal to consume heroin, illegal to possess it, illegal to transport it, illegal to purchase it, illegal to sell it, illegal to manufacture, illegal to grow….. How is that “War on Drugs” working out? And you want to expand this method of criminalization to a “war on gun/gun owners”? What is it about putting people in jail that you find useful??

    Murders with ANY violent method in 2017 : 15,129

    And in that same FBI Uniform Crime Report we find that rifles of ALL TYPES, including the most common rifle in the U.S. the Multi Sport Rifle, the AR-15 and all it’s variants were used in only 403 murders. And yes.. every single one of those murdered has a family who mourns them and has to deal with that loss. But!Whoa! Say What!!?? 403 out of 15,129? Hardly looks like a public health menace to me… These folks do a pretty good job of explaining this:

    Are AR-15 Rifles a Public Safety Threat? Here’s What the Data Say:

    You proposed that public safety will somehow be enhanced if we engage this model. Really? Are you making an assumption that we do not have adequate models for Safety and Suicide prevention?

    Do you know that the Shooting Sports with all its venues is among safest recreational activities available? Do you know that accidental deaths among children due to a firearm are down? If something is working, why do we need the Government involved?

    National Shooting Sports Foundation safety programs

    Eddie Eagle Gun Safety Program

    National 4-H Shooting Sports program

    You speak of enhancing “background checks to all sales” Do you know what a 4473 form is and do you know that EVERY licensed retailer is required to do a NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) Check for Every Firearm Sold regardless of location? Store, Internet, Gun show, doesn’t matter, you have to determine whether or not the person you are selling to is a “prohibited person”. Every time, always. The so called “gun show loophole” is a myth.

    It is already illegal for a private individual to sell a firearm to a known prohibited person.

    It is already illegal for a “prohibited person” to attempt to purchase a firearm from a private individual.

    It is illegal for a “prohibited person” to even handle a private individual’s firearm!

    How is further criminalizing of honest law abiding gun owners going to improve public health?

    You address that “a community’s well being is a key concern throughout the Bible”. We have no disagreement there. My community is doing the work of the gospel every day. We address suicide:

    National Shooting Sports Foundation Suicide Prevention

    Second Amendment Foundation Suicide Prevention

    We engage in non-violence every day. The entire Conceal Carry and “Constitutional Carry” movements are training thousands of individuals in everyday methods of engaging in non-violent, violence mitigation and violence avoidance techniques. The whole movement is predicated on how to de escalate or how to not to engage in violent interaction. Why? because we fully understand the nature, and the depth of destruction violence causes. We suffer no illusions. We also believe that being a victim is not required of us by the gospel, so we do what we can to avoid being a victim or creating a victim.

    Me thinks your bias is showing! Creating more laws so people break them is simply a way to increase and maintain power. We conveniently forget that this was supposed to be a “public health” issue. Thus we get the same effect and outcome as, Prohibition, the “war on drugs” or any other so called “failure”. Well, it’s not a failure if the goal from the get-go is more people in jail, and more power for the “state”. I know that MCC’s anti-gun proposals increase criminalization, what do you think “increasing background checks to all gun sales” will do? So where does that place you on creating less violence in this world?

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