Gun violence and firearm-related injuries amount to a public health crisis in our country that has been politicized rather than addressed from a human health perspective.
Deaths from firearm injuries are the highest in 50 years. Last year, 39,773 people died from gun injuries in the United States, marking three straight years of increases, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2018, there were 340 mass shootings, including 12 victims killed in California in Thousand Oaks.
According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, gun violence is the second most common cause of death among children in the U.S.
Gunshot victims make up 15 percent of trauma admissions at Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno (motor vehicle crashes and falls make up the most common mechanisms of injury). But unlike car crashes, where the mortality rate has fallen steadily over the last 25 years, the death rate from gunshots has risen to almost the same as motor vehicle crashes.
If we approach gun violence from a public health perspective, we can reduce deaths and injuries as we have reduced deaths from motor vehicle crashes. Consider how laws requiring drivers to wear seat belts have been shown to save about 15,000 lives a year in the United States. Gun safety can accomplish the same for firearm-related deaths and injuries.
This past year, I had the privilege of being one of 24 surgeons — and one of only two from California — on the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma’s Firearm Strategy Team (FAST) Workgroup. The surgeons, who like me, are also gun owners, produced recommendations for reducing and preventing firearm injuries and deaths. There were conference calls and meetings over nine months with groups, including the National Rifle Association and the Everytown USA gun safety movement.
The FAST Workgroup recommendations for reduction and prevention of firearm injuries and deaths included a recommendation for accurate background checks for all purchase and transfers of firearms. The recommendation is similar to a bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives on a 240-190 vote at the end of February. The bill passed by the House would expand background checks to include purchases made at gun shows, online or in other private settings, not just at licensed dealers.
The House bill to expand background checks is a step in the right direction, and so is another gun safety bill the House passed, 228-198, that would extend from three days to 10 days the time for background checks to be completed when someone is buying a gun from a licensed dealer.
But the FAST Workgroup made other recommendations to reduce firearm-related injuries and deaths, including registration of all firearms and the development and implementation of a database of all registered firearms; formal gun safety training for all new firearm owners; temporary or permanent restrictions of firearm ownership for individuals deemed a threat to themselves and others; and safe and controlled firearm storage.
I would have included ammunition background checks, weapon identification (microstamping), removal of firearms from domestic violence perpetrators, an assault-style weapons ban and a ban on large capacity magazines.
And I would have included an age limit of 21 years for all weapons. (California increased its age limit for buying rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21 this year. The new law matches one that restricts handgun purchases to adults 21 and older.)
This is not about gun control. This is about firearm injury and death prevention. This is about public health — saving lives and decreasing injuries.