May 29, 2023


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An Update on Gun Violence as a Public Health Issue

3 min read
An Update on Gun Violence as a Public Health Issue

Gun violence is a public health crisis, and lawmakers are taking small steps toward treating it that way, according to a panel that took place last week at the Milken Institute’s Future of Health Summit in Washington, D.C. 

Gun fatalities are the number one killer of children in the U.S., said panelist Kris Brown, who is the president of gun violence prevention nonprofit Brady United. Gun violence has surpassed automobile accidents and all other fatalities, she pointed out.

“We don’t have to live this way. We don’t have to die this way,” Brown said. “We’re very focused on thinking about this issue as a public health epidemic and tackling it like we did secondhand smoke, drunk driving and seatbelts.”

Thinking about gun violence as a public health problem is crucial when it comes to enacting policy change, Brown declared. She laid out some key pieces of gun control legislation that lawmakers passed this year.

The first policy change she pointed to was the bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which Congress passed in June. The law “sets a standard that’s quite important” for gun violence prevention funding, Brown said.

With the Safer Communities Act came a new $750 million funding pot for states to create extreme risk protection orders. These orders refer to laws ensuring that firearms are kept out of the hands of people who a court has deemed to be a significant danger to themselves or others. 

Nineteen states and Washington, D.C. have passed extreme risk protection laws, Brown pointed out. But these laws are “only as good as the knowledge of those who are in a position to seek a protection order,” she said. 

To Brown, what’s really important is the fact that the Safer Communities Act provides millions of dollars to states that have enacted extreme risk protection laws so that they can run training programs. With training, medical professionals, law enforcement personnel and the general public will better understand the steps they can take to keep firearms away from people who have been identified as at high risk of committing violent acts, she said.

An emphasis on training and education is critical when it comes to tackling public health issues on a nationwide level, Brown explained.

Jamie’s Law is another important piece of gun control legislation to which Brown drew attention. The bill — which would require background checks on ammunition sales — was reintroduced to Congress this year and is still pending. Currently California is the only state that requires background checks for the purchase of ammunition, according to Brown.

There has also been some key funding for gun violence prevention from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health in recent years, Brown pointed out. In 2019, “after 20 years of zero funding” from these institutions, they have vowed to provide $25 million dollars a year over the last three years to research gun violence as a public health epidemic, she said.

The reason why lawmakers are finally starting to make slow progress on gun control measures is because “you can’t live in America today without being impacted — directly or indirectly — by gun violence,” Brown declared.

The biggest headwind facing advocates for gun violence prevention is the Supreme Court, she said. She pointed to a decision the court made this June in which it overturned a gun safety law in New York. In the ruling, the court ruled that the state’s law requiring a license to carry concealed weapons in public was unconstitutional.

“The current composition of the court is hostile. Quite frankly, the majority is hostile to a balancing between Second Amendment rights and public safety if you read that decision,” Brown said.

In her view, incremental progress is being made at the state and federal level to treat gun violence as the important public health issue that it is. But she said there is still a long road ahead in the fight to protect American communities against gun-related injuries and fatalities.

Photo: Aitor Diago, Getty Images

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