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September 18, 2013

Experts: Gun Violence Is Public Health Crisis in US

by Carol Pearson

Gun violence in the United States has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 men, women and children in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Doctors and public health specialists say gun violence is at epidemic levels, calling it a major public health threat.

Americans stayed riveted to news channels on September 16. A gunman shot and killed 12 people at the Navy Yard in Washington before he was shot and killed. Mass shootings in the U.S. happen so frequently they are no longer unimaginable.

President Barack Obama lamented this latest one. "We're confronting yet another mass shooting. This one happened on a military installation in the nation's capital."

An organization of U.S. mayors reports that there have been more than 50 mass shootings in the past four years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, killers used guns to murder 11,000 people in 2010 in the U.S., the latest year for which statistics are available. Twenty-thousand others used guns to commit suicides that year, and another 73,000 people were rushed to hospital emergency rooms for gunshot wounds.

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian from the Harvard School of Public Health says the problem is partly due to gun violence displayed in the media.

"We have a culture that really glorifies gun violence to a level and a depth and an intensity that's actually never been in place before in the United States," said Mozaffarian. He supports laws to reduce gun violence.

"We can make guns safer by having automatic security locks so only the owners can use them. We could pass policies that require certain gun storage safety the same way that we require kids to sit in child seats to make cars safer. We can require that guns be stored in locked, safe cabinets so kids can't reach them," said Mozaffarian.

Obama is again calling on lawmakers to act on gun control. Legislation did not make it through Congress following the mass shooting of 20 school children and six adults last December in Newtown, Connecticut.

Research shows that many Americans agree that something has to be done. Colleen Barry at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health said, “Our study showed that there was broad support among gun owners and non-gun owners alike for a spectrum of different types of policies aimed at restricting gun ownership from potentially dangerous people."

The CDC reports that initiatives to reduce gun-related violence can draw upon growing research about behavior and environmental factors associated with this type of violence.