Abcarian: Why surgeon general’s words on American gun violence matter

Hey, cheer up: The news is not all bad.

The federal government acknowledged for the first time recently that gun violence is an urgent public health crisis.

You already knew that, of course. We all knew it. But thanks to the gun lobby’s stranglehold on our political class, it’s been nearly impossible to focus the federal government’s attention — and money — on this shameful and uniquely American problem.

That’s why the “Surgeon General’s Advisory on Firearm Violence” is so encouraging.

In fed-speak, an advisory is the equivalent of sending up a flare; it is reserved for a situation that, as Surgeon General Vivek Murthy put it, requires “the nation’s immediate awareness and action.”

About damn time.

In the past few years, firearms have surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents. Almost 60% of gun deaths are suicides, and over the past decade, young adults have experienced what Murthy described as a “staggering increase” in gun suicide rates.

“We don’t have to continue down this path,” Murthy said in introducing the report, “and we don’t have to subject our children to the ongoing horror of firearm violence in America.”

Stress over shootings

Gun violence has so warped us that nearly three-quarters of American adults report stress about the possibility of a mass shooting, and one-third say that fear of gun violence prevents them from going to certain places or attending certain events. More than half of Americans have had some sort of exposure to firearm violence, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

I don’t know about you, but I almost never walk into a theater or attend a large outdoor gathering without at least a fleeting thought about what I would do if gunfire broke out. I have almost completely stopped honking at people when I drive — even when they deserve it — because I don’t want to get shot by some hothead with a handgun.

By treating gun violence as a public health crisis and treating firearms as we do other potentially dangerous consumer products — such as cars, pesticides, cigarettes or prescription drugs — Murthy said we can reduce gun deaths, injuries and the almost incalculable indirect costs and community trauma that firearms cause.

This is a revolutionary stance for a reason. In 1996, a pro-gun congressman tucked a one-sentence amendment into the budget bill: “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

For the next quarter-century, that amendment basically paralyzed the CDC’s ability to study gun violence. The equation was simple: no money = no research.

“The federal investment in firearm violence research is drastically less than the federal investment in research for causes of death with comparable mortality,” Murthy wrote, noting that research on drownings and car crashes are far better funded.

“We didn’t ignore firearm violence; we deliberately turned our back on it,” said Garen Wintemute, an emergency medicine physician and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis. “It’s as if we said, ‘Let’s not do research on breast …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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