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Surgeon general declares gun violence a public health crisis in America

Vivek Murthy says a "public health approach" is needed to create policies and actions that reduce the impacts of firearm violence.
Vivek Murthy
Posted at 5:53 AM, Jun 25, 2024

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a public health advisory on firearm violence, declaring it a "public health crisis."

In his advisory, Murthy writes that a public health approach is needed to create policies and actions that reduce the impacts of firearm violence.

"As a doctor, I've seen the consequences of firearm violence up close and the lives of the patients that cared for over the years. These are moms and dads, sons and daughters, all of whom were robbed of their physical and mental health by senseless acts of violence," Murthy said.

Murthy's report noted that 54% of U.S. adults said that they or a family member have experienced a firearm-related incident. Among all respondents, 21% said they have been threatened with a firearm, 19% they said have a family member who was killed by a firearm (including by suicide), and 17% reported they have witnessed someone being shot.

Murthy noted the mental toll this violence takes on Americans. The report said that 79% of U.S. adults report experiencing stress from the possibility of a mass shooting and 33% say fear prevents them from going to certain places or events.

Murthy's report also stated that gun violence was the leading cause of death for youth ages 1-19 from 2020-22. Previously, it was motor vehicles. But over the last two decades, the rate of annual deaths by motor vehicles has dropped by about half among youth, while gun violence deaths have steadily risen.

"Our children should not have to live in fear that they are going to get shot if they go to school. None of us should have to worry that going to the mall or concert, or house of worship means putting our lives at risk, or that we'll get a call that a loved one in a moment of crisis has taken their own life with a firearm," Murthy said.

The report lays out some solutions, including addressing structural determinants that increase the risk of firearm violence, encouraging health systems to facilitate education on safe and secure firearm storage, incorporating organizational violence prevention and emergency preparedness elements into safety programs and implementing community violence interventions to support populations with increased risk of firearm violence involvement.

"Firearm violence is a public health crisis. Our failure to address it is a moral crisis. To protect the health and well-being of Americans, especially our children, we must now act with the clarity, courage and urgency that this moment demands," Murthy said.

Anti-gun violence advocates praised Murthy's report on Tuesday.

“Surgeon General reports are renowned publications that take an evidence-based approach to our nation’s most urgent public health issues. Seeing as firearms are now the leading cause of death for children and teens in the U.S., there’s arguably no public health issue that’s more urgent or that warrants the commission of a Surgeon General report more than gun violence,” Brady’s chief medical officer Dr. Joseph V. Sakran said in a statement. "This advisory not only sounds the alarm for all Americans, but it signals there must be greater investments in research and violence prevention solutions."

The National Rifle Association responded to the Surgeon General's announcement.

“This is an extension of the Biden administration’s war on law abiding gun owners. America has a crime problem caused by criminals. The reluctance to prosecute and punish criminals on the part of President Biden and many of his allies is the primary cause of that. That’s a simple fact,” NRA chief lobbyist Randy Kozuch said in a statement.