Gun violence is a public health problem. The solution involves a public health approach.
In many states, including Washington, gun violence costs hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and indirect costs, and takes more lives than motor vehicle crashes. Two of the most significant public health challenges in the last century in America - tobacco use and drunk driving - have been significantly reduced through the application of public health research and intervention techniques. Yet a public health approach is not widely applied to gun violence in our country. It's time for that to change.
Gun Violence is a Public Health Crisis
Gun violence is a leading cause of premature death in the U.S. Guns kill almost 30,000 people and cause 60,000 injuries each year. As an advocate for gun violence prevention policies, the Alliance recognizes a comprehensive public health approach to addressing this growing crisis.
The issue of gun violence is complex and deeply rooted in our culture, which is why we must take a public health approach to ensuring our families and communities are safe. We want to make people safer with firearms, the firearms themselves safer and our society safer with firearms in the environment.
We place a high value on improving gun injury and violence prevention research. Funding for research and prevention strategies is critical to closing the gap in knowledge surrounding gun violence and ensure our national and local data systems are in place, adequately resourced and working to collect and analyze injury-related data from firearm related violence.
Supporting Seattle’s First-in-the-Nation Gun Violence Research
In 2013, Seattle became the first city in the nation to directly fund research into the public health impacts of gun violence in the community.
The study, conducted by the University of Washington’s Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, found a remarkable linkage between gun violence and other health risk factors, as well as an extraordinary risk of gunshot victims being victimized again:
- Individuals hospitalized with an injury and previously arrested for firearms or violence were 13 times more likely to be arrested again within the next five years.
- Individuals hospitalized for a firearm injury were 30 times more likely to be re-hospitalized for another firearm injury than people admitted to the hospital for non-injury reasons.
- Individuals hospitalized with a firearm injury were 11 times more likely to die from gun violence within the next five years than people admitted for non-injury reasons.
Interventions with this relatively small number of individuals have the potential to reduce their high risk of recidivism, and reduce firearm violence in the city. The Alliance for Gun Responsibility is now helping to expand this research into a new study into the best means for intervening with these high-risk communities to reduce their risk of becoming victims of gun violence.
The Harborview Trauma Center, Seattle Police Department, Seattle-King County Public Health, and University of Washington School of Social Work Gun Violence Intervention Research Project are all collaborating to test new methods of intervention during hospital stays, dedicated case management following discharge, and organizing agency support for those previously impacted by gun violence.
Suicide is the leading cause of firearm death in Washington State. In 2014 alone, 545 individuals – 49% of all those who took their own lives – used a firearm. If we are to reduce the level of gun violence in Washington State, we tackle the challenge of suicide prevention head-on. We know that 90% of people who attempt suicide and survive never go on to attempt suicide again. Sadly, firearms are by far the most likely method to result in completed suicide attempts – to the tune of 51%. That’s why intervention in moments of extreme crisis is critical to suicide prevention.
Washington State is demonstrating how approaching firearm suicide as a public health challenge can revolutionize the approach to this complex challenge. These actions represent new steps on the long path to addressing suicide in Washington State.