Gun violence as public health

While we all understand that gun violence has a great impact on public safety and fear of crime, a new report published by the American Public Health Association underscores gun violence as a matter of public health. The first notable observation is cost. According to the APHA study, gun violence creates an additional $2 billion per year in public health care burdens.

Commenting on the report, Dr. Eric Fleegler, an emergency pediatric physician at Boston Children’s Hospital who has published extensive research on firearm injuries and mortality states, “We are talking about huge numbers of people being hurt every year. These are not just problems for an individual but also an incredible burden on our healthcare system.”

According to the APHA study, a third of patients hospitalized for gun injuries were uninsured. Over the past 10 years, 275,939 people were victims of gun violence in the United States. Collectively, they received 1.7 million days of hospital care — which only included costs after the patient was admitted. The average cost of medical treatment for each hospitalization was $75,884.

Dr. Veerajalandar Allareddy of Case Western University in Ohio, the study’s lead author, estimates the total cost over the past decade was greater than $18.9 billion — with figures rising incrementally each year.

Allareddy further clarified that this issue has a particularly focused effect on one social group in particular: “This study has shown (that) despite a lot of policy and programs in the past decade, nothing has changed for the group most likely to be injured by firearms. Young, uninsured, African-American males are still (disproportionately high) victims of firearms regardless of approach, and this is a problem we don’t know how to solve.”

Addressing the matter as an opportunity for better public policy, the National Physicians Alliance concludes: “Americans own an estimated 310 million firearms — approximately 90 guns for every 100 people. Yet research has shown time and time again that the presence of firearms in a home makes its residents less safe.”

The NPA further observes that of those who died from accidental shootings, victims were more than three times more likely to have had a gun in their home as those in the control group.

Moreover, the NPA report, “Gun Safety & America,” states: “Compared to states with the fewest guns, states with the most guns have, on average, nine times the rate of unintentional firearm deaths. The danger of unintentional shootings is especially acute for homes with children.”

In a recent study published in the journal, Injury Prevention, Katherine A. Vittes of Johns Hopkins University, concludes that the following groups are at a significantly higher risk than the general population of committing violent or firearms-related crimes, yet are not prohibited by federal law from purchasing guns: Those who have been convicted of violent or firearms-related misdemeanors; those with a history of abusing alcohol; those convicted of juvenile offenses.

A similar study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reflects the findings of Professor Garen J. Wintemute of the University of California at Davis. Wintemute observes that legal handgun purchasers with at least one prior misdemeanor conviction were more than seven times as likely as those with no prior criminal history to be charged with a new offense after handgun purchase.

While the thought of greater restrictions on gun sales and ownership are anathema to many in this country, it is obvious that the current “freedoms” come with an especially high price tag — a price that the rest of us have to bear.

As such, it seems that a more legally and socially mature society would attempt to evolve beyond the baser cowboy ethos that dominates so much of this discussion