Violence: A Public Health Threat We Cannot Ignore

December 19, 2012 05:30 pm "Voices" Staff

As we all mourn the events in Newtown, Conn., last week, calls to do something about violence and firearms in our society are echoing across the nation. AAFP members have many of the same thoughts and concerns, and many have come to the conclusion that the violence in our nation is a public health concern that must be addressed.


"The AAFP expresses its grief and condolences to the community of Newtown, Conn., as they mourn the victims of an unspeakable act of violence," says a statement released by the Academy. "The AAFP recognizes violence as a major public health concern. This tragedy highlights the need for action to counter the devastating toll it has on our society. It is time for our nation to have an honest and frank discussion on reducing both the tendency and capacity for violence in our society."

An "honest and frank discussion" has needed to happen for quite some time, but it is an issue fraught with emotion, among both those who strongly believe in unfettered Second Amendment rights and those who believe in at least some degree of gun control. But the conversation should not just be about guns. It needs to be about violence overall.

"As family physicians, we provide comprehensive care that focuses on prevention," says the statement from the Academy. "The AAFP believes that the public health threat from violence should be similarly treated comprehensively and with a focus on prevention."

Whether violence is the result of mental illness, easy access to firearms, lax moral standards, or violent video games and movies, it remains a threat to the nation's overall health, and that's where family physicians come into play.

Since 1987, the AAFP has had a policy that specifically recognizes violence as a major public health concern. "Members are best able to adequately counsel patients when they are aware of the various manifestations of violence (including sexual violence), both risk and protective factors related to violence, and of available services for survivors of violence in their community," says the policy.

Counseling patients, recognizing underlying problems, and trying to get help for patients are all within the purview of family physicians. However, the Academy also is aware that, according to a Gallup poll(www.gallup.com), about half of all households in the United States contain firearms.

"While we recognize that violence is related to a plethora of factors that must be addressed, we cannot ignore the roles that firearms so often play in these acts," says the AAFP statement. "The AAFP supports strong and robust enforcement of existing laws and regulations regarding the manufacture, sale and possession of guns. Additionally, the AAFP urges support of legislation that requires trigger locks and storing firearms locked away and unloaded. The AAFP also opposes private ownership of assault weapons."

Based on the response of the nation to the tragedy in Connecticut, as well as to other recent and heartbreaking events, it is time to reopen the conversation on violence and the availability of firearms in the United States. The AAFP plans to take part in that conversation and will continue to call for a broad effort to stem violence, including by advocating for reasonable firearm regulations and responsible gun ownership.