“Public health is concerned with threats to the overall health of a community based on population health analysis. Health is defined and promoted differently by many organizations. The World Health Organization, the United Nations body that sets standards and provides global surveillance of disease, defines health as: “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity(2).” Public health experts agree this definition is incomplete. Other components included in an individual’s health are nutritional, spiritual, and intellectual.” The population in question can be as big as a handful of people or, in the case of a pandemic, whole continents. Public health has many sub-fields, but is typically divided into the categories of epidemiology, biostatistics and health services. Environmental, social and behavioral health, and occupational health, are also important fields in public health. Which leads credecence to my argument, that gun violence is a public health problem.
“In 2005, 24% of the incidents of violent crime, a weapon was present. Offenders had or used a weapon in 48% of all robberies, compared with 22% of all aggravated assaults and 7% of all rapes/sexual assaults in 2005. Homicides are most often committed with guns, especially handguns. In 2005, 55% of homicides were committed with handguns, 16% with other guns, 14% with knives, 5% with blunt objects, and 11% with other weapons (1).”
The data provided by the Bureau of Justice Statistics is alarming. Particularly, with regards to crimes committed with guns. In the wake of the tragedy at Virginia Tech, the time has come for not only another national dialogue, but a call for a consistent, nationwide policy that addresses gun control, crimes committeed with handguns and the appropriate resources in realizing that gun violence is a public health problem.
The literature continues to grow, with regards to gun violence as a public health problem (3-5). Moreover, there are those that may argue that this “epidemic” of violence should only by studied by social scientists and criminologists, due to their specialized training. This argument is pure nonsense. Public health professionals (physicians, nurses, epidemiologsits, analysts) have the ability to contribute a fresh set of eyes to this growing concern. According to Kates et al (6), the American public health community adopted the “objective to reduce the number of handguns in private ownership” in the 70’s. What propelled this thought process was descriptive data provided then by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC has also supported programs like the Public Health Injury Surveillance and Prevention Program and Targeted Injury Intervention Programs for several years. These programs have provided a technical functionality compared with those programs of the Department of Justice.
In the scheme of things, the hard question that should be considered, is how to increase the synergy of governmental organizations like the CDC with the Department of Justice and other enforcement agencies? Will the current administration allow this type of synergy to exist? Based on past and current events, it appears unlikely. Incidentally, this is the appropriate time to engage the contenders for the White House in 2008 concerning this issue. Only a realization that gun violence is in fact a public health issue, can make the efforts of the Brady Law truly realize significant yield.
1. U.S. Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. [Online]. Crime Characteristics. Retrieved from http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/cvict_c.htm#weapon on April 17, 2007.
2. World Health Organization. [Online]. Public health. Retrieved from www.who.org on December 12, 2006.
3. Teret, S. & Webster. (1999). Reducing Gun Deaths in the United States. British Medical Journal. 318 (7192): 1160-1.
4. Frattaroli, S. & Teret S. (1997). Why Firearm Injury Surveillance? American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 15 (3 Suppl). 2-5 (review).
5. Teret S et al. (1993). Firearm Injuries: Public Health Recommendations. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 9(3): 52-3.
6. Kates et al. (1994). Guns and Public health: Epidemic of Violence or Pandemic of Propoganda? Tennessee Law Review. 61 Tenn L. Rev 513-596 (1994).