Thursday, January 3rd, 2013
Even in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, there are few topics more polarizing than gun control. But from the perspective of public health, I would hope everyone would agree that we have an urgent need to make children’s lives safer than they are right now.
Let’s look at some numbers. Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Children’s Defense Fund generated the following statistics:
In 2008, 2,947 children and teens were killed by guns
In 2009, 2,793 children and teens were killed by guns
The majority (about 2/3) were homicide related; around 1/4 were due to suicide; and around 5% were accidental deaths.
If you peruse the CDC site – specifically the section on Injury Prevention and Control – you will note a few key points:
Injuries are the leading cause of death in the U.S. for individuals between 1 and 44 years old
3/4 of all deaths of young people are due to injuries – with homicide being the 2nd leading cause of death for 15-24 year-olds (motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause)
As noted by the CDC, in principle all the deaths due to injuries are preventable. While this goal is not achievable (we live in an unpredictable world), the public health perspective is to do everything we can to reduce the probability of injury and death. For example, with respect to motor vehicle accidents, we focus on a number of issues, including: enforcing speed limits; requiring safety belts; trying to ensure that babies, toddlers and kids are secured as safely as possible in motor vehicles; trying to prevent drinking and driving. We also take on new topics when they emerge, like the very real public health issues that have been raised in more recent years by cell phone use (including, of course, texting) in motor vehicles. Why am I belaboring this example? Because I don’t think many of us find the attempts to reduce mortality due to motor vehicle accidents to be controversial. It’s a public health issue – motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death in youth, so we have to try to find ways to reduce that morbidity. In the same way, we all can take as a starting point the need to reduce mortality attributable to firearms.
Now, I’m not here to resolve the issue – far from that. There’s plenty to debate, and to do this in a real way, we will need to consider a lot of perspectives. What has concerned me is the tendency we all have to polarize an issue – even in the face of the devastating tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary – because it typically leads to no action at all. It’s not all about guns – or not at all about guns. It’s that grey area in between where we have to deal with the realities of how we will take on the firearms issue to try to make the world safer for our kids. Whether you are philosophically for or against gun control, reducing mortality due to firearms is a public health issue, and a part of the equation, as are other factors – including bringing a similar lens to mental health: