July 3, 2019

Gun violence awareness

June is an important month for gun violence awareness, with communities designating a specific day, weekend, or even the whole month to the issue. Even though June is over, it doesn't mean the campaign that aims to prevent senseless deaths caused by firearms will stop caring.

The Wear Orange Campaign and National Gun Violence Awareness Day was inspired by Chicago teens who refused to be silent in the face of gun violence after their 15-year-old friend, Hadiya Pendleton, was killed by a stray bullet days after performing at President Obama's second inauguration. June 2 was her birthday; they selected orange because it is the color used by hunters to protect themselves.

There is a lot violence across the globe related to war, however death related to guns is a big problem in the United States (more so than most countries). Firearm-related deaths is the second leading cause of deaths among children and adolescents in 2017. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017 there were about 39,000 gun-related deaths (up from 33,000 in 2016) in the United States (click here to view state specific statistics). There were 13,000 murders, 25,000 suicides, and somewhere between 800 — 1,600 unintentional fatalities in the US — substantially more than in most other countries worldwide.

Additionally, in the US, the incidence of gun-related deaths in people under age 18 is about 1,200 annually. Even after multiple tragedies at schools, our country is still having well-publicized massacres, as well as some that don't draw media attention, resulting in a daily average of 106 deaths or 4 people under the age of 18. Of course, almost all of these gun deaths to people of any age lead to enormous grief and lost human potential.

A study from Harvard Medical School and School of Public Health shows that laws resulting in fewer guns in our homes are accompanied by dramatic decreases in suicides and homicides by firearms, and in less killing of civilians by police.  Eliminating large numbers of guns indeed saves lives. Whatever it takes and however long it might take, we have to decrease the daily gun deaths. This is why health care providers ask about guns in the home.  Yes, research shows less access to guns leads to less gun deaths. However, there is very low likelihood that we will eliminate all guns.

If you or a family member have guns or have access to guns, make sure the firearm is stored unloaded, locked up (lock, cable lock, or firearm safe), and with the ammunition stored separately. According to a study in Pediatrics, many homes do not have firearms stored safely. Also, it's imperative to ask the question, "Do you have guns in your house?" when your child spends time at another home. Yep, it can be an awkward question, but 2 seconds of awkward is better than years of regret.