If there were a disease killing tens of thousands of Americans and injuring many thousands more every year, would you be concerned? If most of our international peers had successfully controlled this disease, would you demand action from our politicians? If this disease wasn’t a virus or bacteria, but one of our own making – gun violence – would you still feel the same way?
Every year, around twelve thousand people die of firearm-related homicide and another eighteen thousand of suicide, for a total of over thirty thousand – more than die of prostate cancer. Even worse, the victims of gun violence are often young, meaning the burden borne by our society in total years of life is likely greater than breast cancer as well. And yet there are no months dedicated to the many victims of gun violence, no ribbons to raise awareness of their plight, and no fundraisers dedicated to finding the cure to this stubborn problem.
Apparently, we can only bring ourselves to talk about this issue when its victims are forced into our consciousness the way the 20 children and 6 adults of Newtown, Connecticut were last Friday.
It is not as though we have no idea how to solve this problem. Countries around the world have firearm related deaths rates that are a fraction of our own. In 2008 Japan, which has all but outlawed guns, experienced just 11 gun related homicides in a nation of one hundred and twenty million. In the United States, there are three times as many every day. And, despite frequent claims that if guns are regulated criminal access will be unaffected, many bosses in the Japanese mafia have forbidden use of guns by their men in response to strict enforcement measures.
In 1996, in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre that left 35 people dead, Australia instituted strict gun safety laws and initiated a government buy-back of already existing weapons. Since then, the gun homicide rate fell by 59 percent, and the gun suicide rate fell by 65 percent.
This trend is not restricted to just a few countries either. Studies have repeatedly found that a reduction in gun availability leads to less homicide and suicide, and that this holds true whether one examines trends across countries or states.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the debate over gun safety is not the starkness of these studies and statistics; it is that opponents so rarely acknowledge the costs to our society of widely available and easily accessible guns. It is as though after learning of the strong association between cigarettes and lung cancer, we had listened to the tobacco companies as they claimed it was solely an issue of personal freedom, rather than the doctors who insisted it was an issue of public health.
For few other issues would we tolerate this state of affairs. If tens of thousands of Americans died every year of an infectious disease and there was no policy response, there would be a public outcry. If research clearly demonstrated that there were simple solutions to prevent all these deaths and still nothing changed, public health experts would be furious. It is time for us to recognize that we must take action to save thousands of lives and demand change from our politicians.
If you are a doctor, nurse, medical student, nursing student or other health professional, sign our petition demanding gun safety legislation here.