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The Worst Public Health Crisis You’ve Never Heard Of

By Arvind Suguness
. 7 Comment(s)

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.

Share Your Comments


  1. Patricia Toon

    I support better gun safety legislation. This is something that we can do and that everyone will benefit from. This violence must stop!
  2. Kristen Johnson

    I support improved gun safety legislation.
  3. Chris Sel

    Great. Meet the requirements to change the constitution (2nd amendment) and we'll talk. There are ways (legal ways) to get this accomplished, otherwise "shall not be infringed" means just that. You know what has killed more people than citizens with guns? Tyrants with guns. Whether communist, fascist or otherwise, they almost always disarm their citizenry first. I fear my government with guns far more than my neighbor with a gun.
  4. Kellie Perkins

    Why don't you focus on cancer since your a doctor and leave the constitution to our political leaders! Your profession has the leading causes of death for the last 75 years, but you don't see everyone blaming you guys! My right to carry a gun has nothing to do with you, so how dare you use your profession to influence millions of people to believe such bogus information! 574,743 deaths in 2011 alone due to cancer, but you want to focus on something that causes 30,000 deaths or so you say. But wait alcohol and cigarettes kill way more than that in a year, so why don't you focus on banning those two instead of something that kills less than 1 percent of the population? But you won't do that because too much money would be lost, same reason cancer will never be cured. The money that's made off of treatment would all be lost and you guys couldn't live your lavish lifestyles.
  5. Norman G. Ehrlich

     “It is not as though we have no idea how to solve this problem.”

    Absolutely, you have no idea how to solve this problem.

    First, don’t advocate side-stepping the US Constitution and many State Constitutions (that’s what showcasing of Japan is all about).

    Second, you seem to believe that banning legal guns means no violence and no more murders, gun-related or not. That’s rubbish. In Russia, Mexico, Brazil guns are tightly controlled, yet their homicide rate is a multiple of ours. Kindly, stop picking and choosing convenient data & ignoring what's inconvenient.
  6. Jim Smith

    I am sick to my stomach of these anti-constitutionalists trying to regulate and run my life and step all over my personal liberties. Why doesn't the medical profession mind it's own business. At least my gastrointestinal health will be improved.
  7. Carlos Carrera

    The worst public health crisis is drug abuse. Subtract the drug-fueled gang related firearm deaths from New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Washington DC, and the US firearm homicide rate becomes one of the lowest in the world. Please note that each of those cities has some of the most strict anti-gun laws in existence already. Even with those homicides, violent crime of all kinds has been on the decline in the US for years. More people are killed in drunk driving crashes than by guns. More people are killed by *medical mistakes* every year than by guns. You want to save lives? Go take a look in the collective mirror and clean up your own house first before pushing to pass even more ineffectual laws that really only affect the people that aren't a part of the problem.

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