Public health vs. Politics: Firearm violence continues to run rampant

By: Alyssa Greenhouse

7/29/19 Gilroy, CA 3 dead, 16 injured

8/3/19 El Paso, TX 20 dead, 26 injured

8/4/19 Dayton, Ohio 9 dead, 27 injured

This country is no stranger to gun violence. If you turn on the news, there is a high likelihood you will hear of a new mass shooting. In just 7 days, 32 names were added to the ever-growing list of American lives cut short by a bullet. Vulnerable populations and the country at large remain frozen in fear whether their city will be next. The scary truth is that these mass shootings only represent a small fraction of lives lost to firearm violence. 59% of firearm deaths are suicides. 100 people die every single day due to firearm violence in this country. You might not see their names on the news, but they are added to the list and the toll continues to rise. At Grady Memorial Hospital, the highest-volume Level 1 Trauma Center in Georgia, gunshot wounds are the third leading cause of trauma admissions.

While politics seems to be at the forefront of this issue, the result is a country in gridlock without action or change. At the end of the day, the true heart of the issue remains: people are dying. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, if you are in healthcare or health policy, the innocent heartbeat that is stopped by that bullet should hold your focus. We must move the discussion away from politics. We are not pro or anti-guns. We are against more Americans dying from preventable means. This is a public health crisis.

Over the last 20 years, the number of Americans dying from motor vehicle collisions has decreased by 31%. This progress was achieved through extensive research and interventions to promote the safe use of motor vehicles. The conversation did not surround ridding of all cars, but instead, making car use safer and identifying those who should not be operating vehicles. We must figure out how to make firearm use safer.

With the Dickey Amendment overturned in 2018, and the CDC and NIH allowed to research firearm violence, there is hope that the future will bring effective, evidence-based solutions. Of note, a study by Siegel et al. out of Boston University, Boston Children’s Hospital, and Harvard’s School of Public Health analyzed the effectiveness of state firearm laws. Of the 10 laws analyzed, only 3 proved statistically significant in reducing homicides and suicides by firearms:

  1. Universal background checks: Georgia requires a federal background check or a valid carry permit from another state to buy a handgun from a licensed firearms dealer. No background checks are required for private gun sales or transfers (including at gun shows).
  2. Prohibiting those convicted of violent misdemeanors from possessing a firearm: See SB 150 below, not enacted.
  3. Replacing “shall-issue” permit laws with “may-issue”: In the former, law enforcement has no discretion in whether to grant a concealed carry permit to an individual, the latter allows for law enforcement involvement and individuals to be denied: Georgia is a “shall-issue” state.

Interestingly, bans on assault weapons and bans on high capacity magazines did not prove significant in firearm violence reduction, although these reforms remain under heated discussion. Also, under the media spotlight: mental health. Does it play a role in some of these tragic events? Without a doubt. Does it play a role in every firearm death? Most likely not. But the firearm is present in every single one.     

Emory medical students staged a walk out regarding gun violence in 2018.

This post will conclude with a skim of the big legislative proposals both nationally and here in Georgia. We must further our education and understanding on the issue in order to change the conversation towards public health. We must speak up for the legislative changes that will be effective. We must elect officials who will step outside of the political conversation with us, to recognize that this is a conversation about life and death, not Democrat or Republican. While the answer to end firearm violence is unfortunately not in this post, I hope you might feel a little more comfortable engaging in conversation. I encourage you to reframe the discussion, taking it away from sides and politics, and towards the need for timely, research-backed solutions and change. 

Legislative Update: National

HR 8, Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, would require federal background checks for all firearm sales and transfers. The Resolution passed the House, but remains stalled in the Senate.

HR 1112 would extend the review period for background checks from 3 to 10 days, and also passed the House, remaining stalled in the Senate.

Legislative Update: Georgia

Currently enacted, Georgia HB 60 and 280 allow individuals to carry firearms in schools, bars, churches, government buildings as well as on public college and university campuses. 

Georgia is the only state that removes mental health treatment records used for background checks. After 5 years without examinations or reassessments, individuals committed involuntarily for treatment are cleared from the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System and again eligible to buy and carry firearms.

2019-2020 session proposals:

  • SB78 would require all applying for a carry or renewal license to attend a handgun education course approved by the Department of Public Safety.
  • HB238, Gun Safety Act, would require a federal background check for all transactions at gun shows.
  • SB150/ HB20/ HB137/ HB58 would prohibit those convicted of misdemeanor crimes of family violence from possessing a firearm.
  • HB384 would require that firearms be stored in the home within a locked container. Violation would be a misdemeanor crime.
  • SB105 and HB 289, Georgia Firearms and Weapons Act, would outlaw bump stocks, machine guns, dangerous weapons including bazookas and recoilless rifles, and silencers with a punishment of imprisonment up to five years.
  • If passed, HB 2, the Constitutional Carry Act of 2019, would remove some remaining safety restrictions on carrying firearms in parks, historic sites, and recreational areas.


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