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Oct 05

Who Will Die Next? Gun Violence is a Contagious Disease

Posted on October 5, 2017 at 3:25 PM by Dr. Swannie Jett

A crisis is playing out on the streets of America’s communities. Gun violence is a major public health epidemic and a leading cause of premature death. The issue of gun violence was thrust into the national spotlight once again on Oct. 1, when a gunman killed 59 and injured more than 500 at a music festival on the Las Vegas strip, drawing worldwide media attention.  Let us not forget we are still grieving from the Pulse night club shooting in Orlando.

Seventy-seven percent of mass killings involve a gun. According to the American Public Health Association (APHA), every year we lose over 30,000 people from firearm-related violence and an additional 180,000 suffer from non-fatal injuries. In 2015, more than 370 mass shootings occurred in the United States killing more than 475 people. It’s important to conduct research on health status of each community living with gun violence and its impact on housing, education and mental health.  

Most people who are injured after being shot will have a long-term emotional sequela, so that’s another 60,000 annually with a long-term mental illness, psychological distress. These numbers do not include family members, or the family members of the loved ones who died unexpectedly as the result of a traumatic event. Individuals that experience gun violence will become desensitized to violence over time. This doesn’t include the magnitude families deal with from homicides, suicides or police violence in urban communities.  Grief teams need to be trained within communities to heal them.  We need to deploy grief teams to include mental health, public health, and social workers to use ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) to reverse trends in communities.

Furthermore, as a Chicago native, I know firsthand that many Chicagoans fear for their life each day. In 2016, Chicago’s killings increased by 58 percent to 745 total murders. Chicago has the strictest gun laws in the nation. But, this demonstrates we have a deeper problem in this nation concerning gun violence. We have a major epidemic that’s becoming more destructive to our fabric of life than Ebola. We need to treat gun violence as a contagious disease. Many of the gunmen shoot because they have either been in a poor emotional state, distressed, have a mental illness, or do not have stable lives (whether it is family life or work life).  

Gun violence is not inevitable, but It can be prevented through a comprehensive public health approach that keeps families and communities safe. Here are some recommendations to eradicate gun violence: (1) conduct surveillance to track firearm-related deaths, determine causes, and assess intervention methods; (2) identify risk factors associated with gun violence (e.g., poverty, education and mental health)and resilience or protective factors that guard against violence (e.g., youth access to trusted adults); (3) develop, implement, and evaluate interventions to decrease risk factors and build resilience; (4) institutionalize successful prevention strategies; (5) conduct research and assist families dealing with violence & its impact on future violence; and (6) ban assault weapons. We are at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not on our streets where these types of weapons exist.

An estimated 270 million to 310 million firearms are in circulation in the United States. Approximately 323.1 million people live in the United States; that means there is nearly one firearm for every American.

It’s time for Congress, States, and Cities to begin conducting research on firearm violence. It’s time for us to improve background checks and question why we are selling assault weapons. I support an individual’s right to own and protect him or herself. But, if we avoid change the only question left is: who will die next?