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Thursday Oct 05, 2017

A Conversation About Violence as a Public Health Crisis

It's been nearly 10 years since my patient Mary lost her teenage son to an act of violence. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and became another statistic that we unfortunately hear about all too often.

Violence in our communities has become a public health crisis. Now is the time for us to look for an evidence-based approach to this problem. The first step would be to end the ban on federal funding for scientific research on violence involving firearms.  

[Copper bullets lined up on tabletop]

We need objective research to understand the reasons for this violence that is in the news almost daily. More than 90 Americans are killed with guns each day. For every person killed, two more are injured. And like Mary's son, the victims of this violence leave behind countless survivors whose health and well-being are affected by their profound loss.

Despite the passage of time, the death of Mary's son still dramatically affects her. The loss is something we talk about at every visit. Her pain is not lessening.

The statistics are sobering. According to The Washington Post(www.washingtonpost.com), there have been 131 events in which four or more people were killed or injured with firearms since 1966 (excluding gang killings and shootings related to other crimes). More than 30,000 Americans are killed(www.bradycampaign.org) with firearms each year.  

As the scope of violence continues to escalate, we as a community must take measures that address this major public health concern. As family physicians, we must use our voices to help shape the discussion and advocate on behalf of our patients to begin the steps to find solutions.

The AAFP, seven other health professional organizations and the American Bar Association called on Congress in 2015(154 KB PDF) to allow the collection of more and better data by ending the two-decade-old ban on federal funding of research on violence involving firearms. A year later, more than 100 stakeholder groups joined the Academy in reiterating that request to Congress. Such research could provide valuable insights into how to protect our children from accidental shootings and prevent suicide, as well as into the impact of existing policy. New research would allow us to have evidence-based discussions as we move forward.

This issue is complex and often polarizing, with no easy solutions. But clearly, something must change. All of our elected leaders, in concert with the American people, have an obligation to look for ways to address this public health crisis while protecting the rights of individuals.

Now is the time to have a meaningful conversation about violence in our society. Until that happens, the shootings, deaths and anguish will continue. The longer we wait, the more parents like Mary there will be -- having to endure the tragedy of losing their loved ones.

Michael Munger, M.D., is president of the AAFP.

Posted at 12:30PM Oct 05, 2017 by Michael Munger, M.D.

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