In a very quiet development last month, the National Institute of Health (NIH) began studying gun violence after a 13 year ban on the topic.
In 1996 Congress stripped the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of its $2.6 million dollar annual funding for firearm injuries. The Bush administration continued this ban while in control of the agency. At the time, Former Senate Majority leader Bob Dole and Former Senator Trent Lott argued gun related violence was not a public health concern and therefore not under the jurisdiction of the CDC. Rather, they believed it was “driven by a social-policy agenda, [and] simply does not make sense.”
The public health community is in agreement that gun violence is a major concern to the health and safety of the public. Injuries burden the health care delivery system and further crowd our nation’s emergency rooms.
Evidence has stacked up that lax gun control policies in this country have continued to contribute to horrific violence. The recent killings at Fort Hood beg us to ask the question, how could such a mentally disturbed individual legally equip himself for these murders? We should not forget that this isn’t the first time in recent history our country has been shocked by one man’s act of violence. The Virginia Tech massacre showed how documented dangerous individuals could still purchase firearms. Still this act of violence failed to renew the gun control debate. Additionally, the ease of buying and selling guns in America has dramatically increased violence in Mexico.
Thousands of innocent lives are taken by gun violence annually. Completed suicides by firearms account for over half of all suicides in the U.S. Why do individuals with the capacity to kill have ease purchasing weapons? If the answer is not control of guns but rather treatment of the mentally ill, shouldn’t we be able to ask the question?
In addition, a gun injury itself can force an individual to encounter all the problems in our health care delivery system that health care reform is trying to address: cost, quality and access. Hospital medical bills for doctor’s services and medical equipment show the need for improvements to control escalating cost in our health care system. The high chance of hospital related infections in the wound indicate quality must be improved. Finally, 1 out of every 6 Americans lack health insurance putting additional burdens on those seeking medical care after an injury. The health care reform bills do not address gun violence, but improvements in these three areas could reduce the poor health outcomes associated with gun related violence.
The NIH is studying why gun violence occurs, not for political reasons, but in the interest of our health as a nation. Our country will become less violent and healthier if we are able to stop gun violence before abhorrent acts of violence take place.
By Emma Sandoe