Gun Violence Is a Public Health Crisis


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327 people in the US are shot every day — 117 don’t survive, according to statistics provided by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence 

Incidents of gun violence have been on the rise over the last decade, impacting the lives of 54% of US adults and their families 

With spike in gun-related deaths, including suicides, homicides, and accidental deaths, gun violence has now become the leading cause of death among children and adolescents.  

In the wake of mass shootings, gun-related suicides, and the mounting fear over gun violence, United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy declared gun violence in the US a public health crisis on June 25, 2024. 

“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,” Murthy said in a US Department of Health and Human Services news release. “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.” 

Let’s examine gun violence and how it impacts the health of Americans.  

Fatal Gun Violence in the US 

In 2022, 48,204 people died from gun-related injuries, including suicides, homicides, and unintentional deaths, according to data released by HHS 

This figure represents an 8,000 increase from 2019 and an additional 16,000 compared to 2010. 

Of those killed by firearms in 2022, 56.1% of them were related to suicide, 40.8% were from homicide, and the remaining causes were from legal intervention, unintentional injuries, and other unknown injuries, according to the news release. 

Nonfatal Gun Violence in the US 

There are even more cases of nonfatal injuries caused by gun violence.  

In fact, there are over 71,000 nonfatal gunshot injuries in the US every year, according to The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. 

Surviving a gunshot wound is no easy feat and leaves the victim with short-term and long-term health effects. 

Physically, individuals can experience physical limitations, physical disabilities related to the injury, and increased chronic pain. 

Up to one year after sustaining the injury, survivors experienced 117% more pain disorders, including musculoskeletal pain and headache, than those without a gun-related injury. 

Mentally, gunshot survivors sometimes suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders.  

When compared to similar groups, those with gunshot injuries exhibit a 68% for psychiatric disorders and a 144% increase for substance use disorders. 

Gun Violence Disparities 

Gun violence impacts communities, especially communities of color, due to structural, institutional, and individual racism. 

Inequities in housing and education contributed to higher risk for violence and other health conditions, especially among racial/ethnic minority groups. 

As a result of systemic inequities, such as discrimination and redlining, racial/ethnic minority populations are more likely to live in neighborhoods that are more economically disadvantaged, according to HHS. 

Gun-related homicides happened 4.5 times more in areas with higher levels of poverty and had 1.3 times more firearm-related suicides. 

When it comes to racial/ethnic groups, Black communities experienced the highest rates of gun-related homicides across every age group in 2022. Half the deaths were among youth.  

In gun-related suicides, white individuals made up the highest rates for adults older than 45, while American Indians and Alaska Natives made up the most among those younger than 45.  

Due to racial and ethnic disparities in the Latino community, including higher risk for poverty, Latinos are susceptible to gun violence and its impacts. 

Among youth living in large cities in the US, Black and Latino youth were found to be seven times more likely to experience firsthand or be near firearm homicide within the past year, compared to white youth, according to HHS data. 

What’s more, they experienced these incidents closer to their homes. 

Gun Violence and Latinos 

From 1999 to 2019, 69,519 Latinos were killed from gun violence in the US, according to a report from the Violence Policy Center (VPC). 

Of those killed in this timeframe, 44,614 were homicides, 21,466 were suicides, and 1,182 were done unintentionally. 

In 2019 alone, Latinos were found to have nearly double the rate of firearm deaths of white individuals.  

Many of these deaths were young Latinos.  

Homicide is the third leading cause of death among Latinos between ages 15 and 24, and 87% were caused by gun violence. 

In the same age group, suicide is the second leading cause of death with 37% of deaths involving a firearm.  

This is critical to the mental health of Latinos, as 78% of them have suffered at least one adverse childhood experience, such as gun violence, according to a Salud America! research review. 

Gun Violence and Children 

In 2020, CDC reported that gun violence injuries surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death for children and adolescents living in the US.  

From 2012 to 2022, gun-related suicide rates in children and young adults had a 45% increase for those ages 15 to 24 and a 68% increase for those ages 10 to 14, according to a federal news release. 

The unprecedented increase of gun violence among US youth has sparked growing concern for children’s health and safety, especially in schools. 

From the 2016-2017 to the 2017-2018 school year, school shootings jumped from 48 to 89 then from 89 to 115 the following year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics 

The biggest increase in school shootings occurred from the 2020-2021 and the 2021-2022 school years when the number of shootings increased from 146 to 328. 

Between 2017 to 2022 there was a total of 794 school shootings, including the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas in 2022 and the 2018 shooting inside a Parkland, Florida high school. 

Over half of US youths ages 14 to 17 worry about school shootings, according to an SPL Center survey about youth attitudes toward guns.   

The same survey indicated that nearly 6 in 10 youths have recently considered what would happen if a person with a gun entered their school or another nearby. 

This finding further perpetuates that gun violence or threat of gun violence has a negative impact on the mental health of young people in the US.  

Gun Violence and Mental Health 

As the gun-related death toll continues to rise, so do growing fears of gun violence. 

Nearly 6 in 10 adults in the US admit to worrying “sometimes,” “almost every day,” or “every day,” about someone they love becoming a victim of gun violence, bringing attention to the mental health impacts of gun violence. 

Those fears have worsened with the increase in mass shootings. 

More than 600 mass shooting events have occurred each year between 2020 and 2023, according to data compiled by HHS. 

This represents an estimated 33% increase in mass shootings per year that occurred between 2015 and 2018, according to data published by the Gun Violence Archive cited by HHS. 

While mass shootings account for only 1% of gun-related deaths in the US, the spike in mass shootings has caused a rise in fear and stress.  

In fact, 79% of US adults say that they are stressed over the possibility of a mass shooting, while 33% say fear impacts them from going certain places or attending events, according to an American Psychological Association report on gun violence. 

Despite the many causes of mass shootings, mental health plays a role in many.  

HHS cited an FBI report that examined active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013 and found that nearly 25% of perpetrators were diagnosed with a mental illness.  

Causes of Increased Gun Violence 

Given the increase in incidents of gun violence over the last few years, the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused a rise in mental health issues, could be partially to blame.  

Right before and during the pandemic, an estimated 5.4 million households in the US that didn’t previously own a firearm purchased one for the first time, according to HHS 

Other inequities, such as socioeconomic status, could play a role in the risk for increased gun violence.

 A study cited by HHS found that trust in institutions, changes to a household’s socioeconomic status, income inequality, and social service spending can contribute to higher gun-related homicide rates.  

For instance, gun-related homicides decreased by 25% because of an upward trend in social mobility, while higher levels of institutional trust were linked to a 17% decrease in gun-related homicides.   

Geographically, there tends to be higher rates of gun-related homicides in urban areas with higher populations. Suicide rates remain higher in more rural areas. 

One of the biggest contributions to the increase in gun-related deaths, including suicides, homicides, and unintentional deaths, is the accessibility to firearms inside the home. 

In cases of unintentional firearm death or injury among children and adolescents was caused by unlocked and loaded weapons. 

According to a 2022 survey cited by HHS, 71% of gun owners used a storage or locking device on at least one firearm and 65% admitted to having at least one firearm unlocked.  

In addition, 36% of households with firearms that have children have unlocked guns. 

In unintentional firearm deaths, 74% of the guns were found stored loaded, 76% were unlocked and accessed in sleeping areas like a nightstand, or under a mattress or pillow. 

How Do We Address Gun Violence? 

In his June 2024 public health advisory,  US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy proposed several ways to increase awareness, education, and safety when it comes to gun violence.  

They include investing in critical research, developing community risk reduction and education prevention strategies, implementing firearm risk reduction strategies, and increasing mental health action and support, according to the news release. 

Making critical research investments would improve data sources and collection, help researchers to examine the short-term and long-term outcomes of gun violence, and conduct research to help with the effectiveness of gun violence prevention strategies. 

Efforts to reduce gun violence continue at the community level by implementing community violence interventions, incorporating organizational violence prevention and emergency preparedness into safety programs, and encourage health systems to facilitate education on gun safety and storage. 

There are several ways to reduce firearm risk, including passing child access prevention laws that require safe and secure firearm storage, having universal background checks and expanding purchaser licensing laws, and requiring stricter safety testing or safety features. 

To help with mental health needs, HHS suggests increasing access to affordable, high-quality mental health care and substance abuse treatment and investing in safety measures and evidence-based violence prevention efforts in learning spaces. 

“While further research is needed to better understand firearm violence and its impacts, we can promote programs, policies, and practices right now that create safer conditions for the American people. This requires leveraging community leaders, working closely with at-risk populations, and educating the public on key protective actions. An all-of-society effort is required to help create safer conditions, build healthier communities, and save lives,” the news release stated. 

Caring for Those Exposed to Gun Violence 

When gun violence occurs, it doesn’t just impact the individuals directly involved. I, it tends to affect the entire family, those who witness the violence, and communities.  

Members of families impacted by gun violence have been known to experience mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the news release. 

Of those polled in a nationally representative survey, 19% of survey takers reported losing a family member to gun violence while 17% have witnessed someone being shot.  

Gun violence can be particularly difficult on the mental health of children.  

Between 1999 and 2020, an estimated 434,000 children experienced a gun-related death of a parent, according to HHS 

The gun-related death of a parent can leave lasting impacts on health, including the risk of depression, heart disease, and cancer.  

It can also cost them opportunities to succeed in life, like with education and potential jobs.  

To address instances of childhood trauma, which includes gun-related violence, Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, director of Salud America! and the Latino health equity program at UT Health San Antonio, with help from Andrea Darr, of the West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice, created the Handle with Care Action Pack. 

The Handle with Care Action Pack helps children who have experienced traumatic events by giving the police a way to notify schools of instances of childhood trauma so they can provide trauma-sensitive support. 

“When police come across kids at a scene of domestic violence, drug raid, or accident, they send school districts a simple heads up. They send the child’s name, age, and school, with a simple message to ‘Handle with Care,’” said Darr. No confidential or incident information is shared. “Schools prepare to give trauma-sensitive support and connect those kids and families to mental healthcare services.”  

Download the free Salud America!Handle With Care Action Pack.” 

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