Opinion: Can surgeon general curb gun violence in America?

Gun Rights

In a landmark advisory, the U.S. Surgeon General issued the first Advisory on Firearm Violence, declaring that firearm violence in the United States is a public health crisis. The advisory reveals the devastating and far-reaching consequences that gun violence poses to the health and well-being of our country.

“Firearm Violence: A Public Health Crisis in America” painstakingly documents the horrific toll of gun violence on the lives of Americans. One statistic jumps out: in a national survey more than half of U.S. adults, 54%, reported that they or a family member have experienced a firearm-related incident. One in five adults has been threatened with a gun or has a family member who was killed by a gun. Nearly one in six adults have witnessed someone being shot, and for every 100 adults, four have been injured by a gun.

The Surgeon General’s Advisory is yet another example of the unprecedented actions taken by the Biden administration to keep Americans safe from gun violence. Last year President Joe Biden created the first-ever White Office of Gun Violence Prevention. In 2022 he championed and signed into law the first strengthening of federal gun laws in nearly 30 years, measures that have already kept guns out of the hands of hundreds of potentially dangerous individuals. That year he also appointed the first Senate-confirmed director of the ATF since 2015. 

This epidemic is traumatizing America. A majority of teens go to school every day fearing a shooting will happen in their school, with Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Oxford Hills and Uvalde etched in their minds. Teachers are equally worried; one in four say their school went into lockdown in the 2022-23 school year. The fear is pervasive: nearly six in ten adults worry that someone they love will become a victim of gun violence.

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With common-sense regulations to keep guns out of the hands of individuals at risk of violence, by keeping weapons of war out of the hands of civilians and adopting a public health approach that invests in violence reduction, lives will be saved.

Among the recommendations in the advisory are many that Connecticut has already implemented, thanks to more than 30 years of grassroots advocacy led by CT Against Gun Violence and other organizations. The surgeon general’s recommendations include:

Although the surgeon general doesn’t have the authority to single-handedly implement significant policy changes, his recommendations can influence the policy choices of others. That’s what happened following the 1964 surgeon general’s report concluding that smoking caused lung cancer. Cigarette smoking dropped by two-thirds in subsequent years.

Daniel Webster, a pre-eminent researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions remarked, “For years to come, people will look at this document.”

My hope is that with continued grassroots advocacy and voter participation by those who believe in common-sense gun laws we’ll get more members of Congress who put the safety of Americans ahead of the NRA’s “guns everywhere” agenda. And then we can have lawmakers who won’t just “look at” the document, they’ll take actions that will address gun violence for the public health crisis that it is. Just as we have here in Connecticut.

Jonathan Perloe is director of communications for CT Against Gun Violence.

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