Gun violence declared a public health crisis in the US as firearm-related deaths and injuries surge

Gun Rights

The US Surgeon General has sounded the alarm on gun violence, labeling it a dire public health emergency.

This stark warning comes in the wake of an alarming rise in firearm-related injuries and fatalities across the nation. In a recent advisory, Dr Vivek Murthy, America’s chief physician, highlighted the urgency of the situation as the country reels from yet another blood-soaked summer weekend marred by mass shootings that have left scores dead or injured.

“People want to be able to walk through their neighborhoods and be safe,” Murthy emphasized during a phone interview with The Associated Press. “America should be a place where all of us can go to school, go to work, go to the supermarket, go to our house of worship, without having to worry that that’s going to put our life at risk.”

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Collection of hunting rifles. Rifles, shotguns on wooden table background, Hunting guns close-up

Vivek Murthy suggests mandatory universal background checks for gun purchases and stringent regulation of the firearms industry

Murthy is advocating for decisive action to curb gun deaths, including a ban on automatic rifles, mandatory universal background checks for gun purchases, stringent regulation of the firearms industry, laws limiting the use of guns in public areas, and penalties for improper storage of weapons.

However, the implementation of these recommendations on a national scale hinges on Congressional legislation, which historically shies away from gun control debates. Nonetheless, some state legislatures have adopted or are contemplating measures in line with the surgeon general’s advice.

Surgeon General Murthy pointed to a “broad agreement” on the gravity of gun violence, referencing a poll from last year indicating that most Americans occasionally fear a loved one could fall victim to a shooting. The toll of gun injuries in 2022 exceeded 48,000 lives in the United States.

Doctors were quick to commend Murthy’s advisory. The American Academy of Family Physicians, which has labeled gun violence a public health crisis for over ten years, voiced their support.

“Family physicians have long understood, and have seen first hand, the devastating impact firearm violence has on our patients and the communities we serve,” said the group’s president, Steven Furr, in a statement.

Yet, Murthy’s advisory is set to spark controversy among gun rights advocates and is sure to rile up Republican lawmakers, many of whom twice blocked his appointment due to his views on gun violence.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) was swift to criticize Murthy’s advisory. “This is an extension of the Biden Administration’s war on law-abiding gun owners,” declared Randy Kozuch, the NRA’s president, in a statement on X.

It was the NRA, along with Republicans backed by the influential gun lobby, who nearly thwarted Murthy’s confirmation as surgeon general ten years ago. After his initial outspokenness on gun violence nearly cost him the position, Murthy reassured the Senate that he did “not intend to use my office as surgeon general as a bully pulpit on gun control.”

Murthy was ousted by then-President Donald Trump in 2017, but was reappointed by President Joe Biden in 2021.

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Murthy has issued warnings about concerning health trends in American society, such as loneliness and the use of social media. In a recent op-ed for The New York Times, he highlighted how social media is contributing to a mental health crisis among the nation’s youth and called on Congress to mandate warning labels on social media platforms akin to those on cigarette packs.

However, he has also been under increasing pressure from certain doctors and Democratic advocacy groups to be more vocal. A quartet of former surgeon generals urged the Biden administration to produce a report on the issue in 2022.

“It is now time for us to take this issue out of the realm of politics and put it in the realm of public health, the way we did with smoking more than a half century ago,” Murthy said.

The 1964 report from the surgeon general that heightened awareness about the perils of smoking is largely credited with reducing tobacco use and leading to regulations on the industry.

Murthy is hopeful that his advisory on guns will also shift the dialogue on this matter. He has been buoyed by some developments in Congress, including the 2022 passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that bolstered background checks for firearms.

A report from the White House reveals that more comprehensive background checks have prevented approximately 800 firearm sales to individuals under 21. Furthermore, over 500 people, including some associated with international cartels and organized crime groups, have been charged with gun trafficking and other crimes under the groundbreaking gun safety legislation.

In his advisory titled “Firearm Violence: A Public Health Crisis in America” Murthy highlights the particular impact of gun violence on children and young Americans. Suicide rates involving guns have surged nearly 70% among those aged 10 to 14.

His research indicates that children in the US are significantly more likely to die from gunshot wounds than their counterparts in other nations. Benjamin Hoffman, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, shared that pediatricians regularly discuss with families the importance of securely storing firearms away from children during wellness visits.

This simple measure can prevent a significant number of gun-related deaths and injuries, including accidental shootings and suicides. “Having access to a firearm for a child who is experiencing a behavioral health crisis is an absolute recipe for the most tragic things you can imagine,” Hoffman warned.

Even when children are not direct victims of a gun shooting, they may suffer from mental health blowback of gun violence, the report says. About half of teens in the US worry about a school shooting. And in areas that have been exposed to a fatal shooting at a school, youth antidepressant use jumps by more than 20%.

In addition to new regulations, Murthy calls for an increase in gun violence research and for the health system to promote and educate patients about gun safety and proper storage during checkups.

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