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LETTERS / The Blame Is On Us For Not Recognizing Gun Violence as a Public Health Crisis

Dear Editor,

There is a long and disturbing history of school shootings in the US dating back to the 19th century and continuing nearly every decade since then. So, what’s different now? We can blame the lack of gun control,  inability to deal with mental illness, the NRA, congress, and the wholesale marketing of fear but we’d be misdirected. The blame lies in our inability to look beyond these exogenous factors and look inward to what we’ve become as a society. The blame is on us for not recognizing gun violence as a public health crisis and not taking steps to treat it as such. America has normalized school shootings and congress is impotent to offer anything other than “thoughts and prayers.”

America has a love affair with guns, authoritarianism, and anti-intellectualism which blend together to create a perfect storm of rampant and senseless killing. This gun lust is now normalized by the aforementioned exogenous factors exacerbated by media sensationalism. It’s now popular to be fearful, carry a gun, buy more guns, buy guns to protect your guns, and attempt to solve many of our societal problems with the gun. What if we had treated smallpox, polio, vehicular deaths, and the dangers of tobacco with the same defeatist attitude we treat gun deaths in America? The solution to America’s gun lust is lying dormant in the ground like a miracle antibiotic just waiting to be utilized if only our lawmakers were brave enough to get serious about it.

We have to change the culture of gun use to a culture of anti-gun use the same way we implemented the use of seatbelts, anti-smoking campaigns, and even littering. We made those things unpopular to do just like drunk driving. Sure, there are those who refuse to quit smoking, wear a seatbelt, and throw trash out, but it has become taboo because of expansive public health campaigns which have persisted for decades. We could do the same with the culture of the gun. 

Banning guns at this point seems patently futile because that cat’s already out of the bag. There are millions of guns already in circulation in the US. We tried banning alcohol during prohibition and that obviously didn’t work. The war on drugs has been an abject failure as well. What has worked is addressing public health problems at the root cause which in the case of gun violence, is societal and legislative permission, and even encouragement! Citizens of other countries have guns but don’t have weekly school shootings, accidental shootings, police shootings, and self-inflected shootings at nearly the rate we do. It’s just that those citizens don’t have love affairs with their guns and look to the gun to solve their problems.

An effective public health campaign aimed at reducing the staggering number of gun homicides in the US would begin with congress having the will to recognize the cause of gun violence and enact laws to more strictly regulate the sale of firearms. This action signifies a positive step toward discouraging gun abuse. They would then move to ban the sale of assault weapons. How could a 17 year old legally purchase an assault weapon to kill other children? However, legislating gun control is worthless without creating a massive public health campaign discouraging the display, usage, and empowering perception of carrying a gun into the grocery store or theatre. Perhaps the campaign could develop a slogan like “only the weak and frightened need a gun to feel powerful.” America’s gun problem is solvable but it requires a change in thinking along with politicians and a public not afraid to speak up!

Bill Moore, RN