Monday, July 15, 2024

Health Crisis: U.S. Surgeon General Issues Advisory on Firearm Violence in the United States

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Health crisis of public of firearm violence in America has been addressed in a landmark advisory issued by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. This advisory highlights the pervasive nature of firearm violence, noting that more than half (54%) of U.S. adults or their family members have experienced a firearm-related incident. The number of firearm-related deaths, including suicides, homicides, and accidental deaths, has been rising over the past decade. Firearm violence is now the leading cause of death among children and adolescents.

This advisory is the first from the Office of the Surgeon General focused on firearm violence and its impact on public health. It goes beyond the immediate consequences of death and injury to detail the broader effects on youth, families, communities, and society at large. Nearly six in ten U.S. adults worry frequently about a loved one being a victim of firearm violence, indicating a widespread collective trauma.

Firearm Violence: An Urgent Public Health Crisis Demands National Commitment, Says Dr. Vivek Murthy

“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,” said Dr. Vivek Murthy. “We don’t have to continue down this path, and we don’t have to subject our children to the ongoing horror of firearm violence in America. All Americans deserve to live their lives free from firearm violence, as well as from the fear and devastation that it brings. It will take the collective commitment of our nation to turn the tide on firearm violence.”

The advisory notes a steady increase in firearm-related deaths, driven by both homicides and suicides. In 2022, over half (56.1%) of all firearm-related deaths were suicides, 40.8% were homicides, with the remainder due to legal interventions, unintentional injuries, and unknown causes. Despite challenges in measuring nonfatal firearm injuries, it is estimated that there are at least twice as many nonfatal injuries as fatal ones.

Firearm violence affects different communities disproportionately. In 2022, the Black community had the highest firearm homicide rates across all age groups, and Black youth accounted for nearly half of all firearm deaths among youth, despite constituting only 14% of the youth population. White people aged 45 and older had the highest firearm suicide rates, and among those under 45, American Indian or Alaska Native (AI/AN) people were most affected. Veterans also face higher risks, with the firearm-related suicide rate in 2021 being 62.4% higher for Veteran men and 281.1% higher for Veteran women compared to their non-Veteran counterparts.

Firearm violence has a significant toll on children in America. In 2020, firearm-related injuries surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death for children and adolescents. Between 2012 and 2022, there was a 45% increase in firearm-related suicide rates among 15-24-year-olds and a 68% increase among 10-14-year-olds. A survey found that 51% of 14-17-year-olds worry about school shootings, and nearly six in ten have recently thought about what would happen if a person with a gun entered their school. The constant threat of firearm violence adversely impacts the mental health of young people.

Health Crisis

Firearm Violence Health Crisis: Advisory Highlights Cascading Harm on Victims, Families, and Communities

The advisory emphasizes that the impact of firearm violence extends beyond direct victims. Witnesses, family members, friends, and entire communities experience cascading harm. Research shows that family members of firearm violence victims have an increased risk of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Communities with high exposure to firearm violence often feel less safe, with 79% of adults experiencing stress over potential mass shootings and 33% avoiding certain places due to fear.

The advisory outlines a public health approach to tackling firearm violence, emphasizing critical research funding, prevention strategies, and increased access to mental health care. Key strategies include:

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The U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory on firearm violence outlines a comprehensive public health approach, emphasizing the need for research investments to improve data sources, examine outcomes of firearm violence, and conduct implementation research for prevention strategies. It also calls for community risk reduction by implementing violence interventions, incorporating violence prevention into safety programs, and encouraging health systems to educate on safe firearm storage.

For firearm risk reduction, the advisory advocates for requiring safe firearm storage, implementing universal background checks, banning assault weapons, and creating safer public conditions related to firearm use. Additionally, it stresses the importance of increasing access to affordable mental health care and enhancing violence prevention efforts in schools.

In concert with the advisory, leaders from ten major medical organizations and the YWCA expressed support. They emphasized the importance of addressing firearm violence as a public health issue, advocating for evidence-based policies and community involvement to mitigate the crisis.

The U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory on firearm violence calls for a collective effort to address this public health crisis. By implementing a comprehensive, evidence-informed approach, the nation can work towards creating safer communities and reducing the devastating impact of firearm violence.

 

Resource: Health and Human Services, June 25, 2024

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