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Friday July 12, 2024

US surgeon general declares gun violence a public health crisis

By Reuters
June 26, 2024
US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy seen in this undated image. — Reuters/file
US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy seen in this undated image. — Reuters/file 

WASHINGTON: The U.S. Surgeon General declared gun violence in the country a public health crisis on Tuesday, calling on Americans to act to prevent rising firearm-related deaths and its cascading effects, particularly on Black Americans and other communities.

In the first-ever public health advisory on gun violence, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy outlined what he called devastating and far-reaching consequences on the public’s well-being and called for more research funding, better mental health access and other steps such as secure storage to reduce harm.

“Firearm violence is an urgent public health crisis that has led to loss of life, unimaginable pain, and profound grief for far too many Americans,” he said in a statement.

Murthy said the impact of gun violence spreads far beyond the staggering number - 50,000 a year - of lives lost. It impacts millions of people who have either been shot and those that survived it, who have witnessed gun violence, lost family members or who are reading about it in the news, he added.

The surgeon general also said declaring gun violence a public health issue prioritizes the problem, comparing it to a similar warning on tobacco products decades ago, and it lays out the impact this is having on children and teens. Gun violence, he said, is the leading cause of death among children and teens.

“My hope with this advisory is that we can actually take it out of the realm of politics and put it into the realm of public health, which is where it belongs,” Murthy later said in an interview on CNN.

The rate of firearm-related deaths has been steadily rising, Murthy warned, with more than half of those in 2022 driven by suicides followed by homicides and accidental deaths. It is the leading cause of death among U.S. children and adolescents.

Studies have shown the increase in firearm-related fatalities among U.S. youth has taken a disproportionate toll on Black communities.

Gun violence has also created additional harm as more U.S. adults report worrying about themselves or a loved one becoming a victim, which “leads to cascading harm across society,” Murthy wrote, citing data from a 2023 KFF survey.

Former congresswoman and gun shooting survivor Gabby Giffords, who was seriously wounded in a 2001 shooting at a gathering of constituents in Tucson, Arizona that killed six people, called on policymakers and the U.S. government to heed the surgeon general’s warning.

“I have seen firsthand how shootings are a major threat to Americans’ lives and well-being, and our leaders must view the problem as the public health crisis it is,” Giffords said in a statement.