Among modern industrialized nations, only the United States endures the current public health epidemic of firearm-assisted injury and death. In 2017, nearly 40,000 people were shot to death in the U.S., while proponents of the Second Amendment continue to protect it at all costs — fighting even common sense measures such as limiting access to felons and the mentally ill. On both sides of this debate, opinions are lobbed as facts, these “facts” lacking substantiation or scientific research for verification. Neither side is listening to the other, and unvetted “facts” are used as ammunition for the continued polarization.
I grew up in a house with guns and learned to shoot before I could drive. I spent many summer days with my grandfather target shooting with pistols and rifles. He was a proud life member of the NRA. He respected firearms and taught me to do the same. I am not anti-gun; I am anti-gun violence and injury. We need to strive to minimize firearm injury and associated mortality. We must study the epidemiology of this epidemic of firearm morbidity and mortality as we do any other public health issue.
It is time to develop strategies for curbing the slaughter working within the constraints of the Second Amendment. We all want our families to be safe and live in a country where they do not have to fear some crazed shooter with a self-destructive agenda. We all want to minimize avoidable accidental firearm injuries.
The automobile industry, collaborating with government, has utilized safety research to make our cars and roads much safer. Anti-lock brakes, seat belts, and crumple technology save lives every day. Our cars are registered and tracked with vehicle identification numbers. Operators are licensed with mandatory periodic training. Those that drive impaired or with health issues are denied driving privileges.
The firearm industry must collaborate with government to adopt a similar approach. Congress must foster this partnership — not obstruct it by blocking firearm safety research. We must fund the scientific and epidemiological research to make firearms and their use as safe as possible. We need best practice policies based on scientific research to keep firearms from the mentally challenged, and promote responsible ownership and use. The United States leads the world in firearm-related homicides and suicides, to affect this epidemic. We must insist our elected officials partner with researchers, gun enthusiasts and the National Rifle Association to make the gun manufacturers accountable to the citizens of this country.
The safety journeys of other major product manufacturing industries, such as the automobile industry provide an excellent template to make firearm ownership and use considerably safer. As a nation must commit the resources to begin the dialogue and the research. We need to address this epidemic with the same tools as we approach any other public health issue. Only by applying this scientific approach, will we make gun ownership and use safer – and reduce this nation’s excessive gun-related injury and mortality record.
Let us all start talking and even better – collaborating to stop this madness.
Charles Nozicka is a pediatric emergency physician.
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