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Why Gun Control is a Public Health Issue

Originally published 1/20/2013

First let me define what public health is. Simply put, public health is the scientific exploration of things that decrease the quality and quantity of life. People frequently associate the work of public health in identifying diseases that influence populations. We are well-acquainted with vaccination programs introduced to combat diseases such as polio and measles, or the campaigns to distribute condoms and provide education on STD prevention. But we tend not to think of the traffic laws or occupational health standards that have been instituted as a result of public health programs.

The importance and influence of the science of public health in today’s society is clearly evident by the increasing number of degree-granting progams in the U.S. Each institution sets its own goals to help outline its mission related to public health. Some set core values to guide its faculty and students. The Harvard School of Public Health lists several core values; here is my favorite:

“Public health has the responsibility to improve and protect the health of all populations, especially the most vulnerable of these-children, the elderly, the poor, and the underserved.”

Gun-violence is a major issue plaguing 3 of the 4 vulnerable populations listed – children, the poor and the underserved. In the US, more than 20,000 children (under age 20) are killed or injured by guns each year [The Future of Children, 2002].

Not only do Kaplan and Kerby outline the healthcare and society costs associated with gun violence, they very succinctly state the impact on poor and minority communities in the U.S. They even discuss the role of exposure – kids growing up in a violent community – and the need to break that cycle. There are some who read this data and immediately want to blame the communities most affected!!

We know that STDs have a greater impact in poor and minority communities. So education and outreach is concentrated there – where it is needed. Do the same proponents of blaming vulnerable populations also blame them for the disparities in the incidence of STDs?? They may, but perhaps not as vocally since they understand that risk may spread, particularly in a climate where interracial relationships have become more accepted. Perhaps with gun violence, it is easy to assume a neutral position since they separate themselves from at risk neighborhoods and therefore the violence may not directly affect them. Some may even go so far as to say or imply that the U.S. should let these underserved communities ‘kill themselves off.’

I hate to bring money into this discussion, but perhaps that will awaken some to understand that the health of the poor and underserved communities in this country is EVERYONE’s concern.

Healthcare costs associated with gun violence in the U.S. are skyrocketing. Since the majority of gunshot victims are uninsured, taxpayers are footing the bill. The annual estimated cost of gun violence, including medical care, mental health support for family of victims, costs related to loss of work and productivity, top $100 billion!

If this doesn’t encourage all of us to think about gun control as a public health issue, I don’t know what will.

One drop of knowledge can ripple through an entire community ~

Dr. Karen



Hi, I'm Dr. Karen!

For years, I have been obsessed with understanding why some communities are more greatly impacted by disease than others. So as a medical/graduate student, I decided that I wanted to make sure that everyone had equal access to healthcare and we would no longer have underserved populations in the U.S.

This blog, and this site, is dedicated to the pursuit of eradicating health disparities and empowering communities and individuals to take charge of their own health. 

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