In the wake of the murders at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin a week ago, and the mass homicide at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado three weeks ago, experts are concerned that gun violence is endemic to the United States. Instead of rushing out to buy guns or to control gun ownership, doctors think that we should be treating gun violence as a public health problem.
Doctors liken the way that we should be treating gun violence with highway safety. Now, guardrails on the side of the highway curve as they meet the pavement; in the past, they had sharp metal ends that stuck out, causing people to spear themselves in fatal accidents. Today, while driving schools have attempted to teach people how to drive more safely, car accident fatalities have decreased, even while the number of cars on the road has increased.
Researchers are doing their best to cultivate a pragmatic, science-based approach to assess the reality of a society saturated with guns and how we can prevent violence as a result.
Today, 260 million to 300 million guns are owned by American civilians; with 314 million Americans alive today, that number comes out to 88 guns owned for every 100 residents. A third of American homes have a gun in them. Though violent crime and murder rates have decreased drastically over the past two decades, about 9 percent of violent crimes, or 338,000 a year, involve guns. Emergency rooms see 73,000 firearm-related injuries a year.
And yet, as Dr. David Satcher, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, put it to the Associated Press, guns are one of the few consumer products that do not come with national product safety oversight.
Product safety is one approach that experts are examining. Researchers are also looking at what makes people more likely to shoot, and what makes them more likely to be a victim. For example, research has shown that gun owners are more likely than people who do not own guns to drink and drive or to binge-drink. Meanwhile, other research has tied gun violence to alcohol. Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency medicine professor and the director of the Violence Prevention Research program at the University of California-Davis, suggests that people with previous DUI convictions should be forbidden from buying guns.
Researchers are also examining which guns are the most dangerous and why, and what conditions contribute to shootings. They also are looking at gun violence as a virus, and examining how it spreads. For example, when high-profile mass murders occur, it causes people to buy more guns.
That has already occurred in the wake of the Aurora shooting. Reports have circulated in which people brought guns to their local movie theaters. Many of them reportedly did so in an effort to make themselves feel safe.
Published by Medicaldaily.com