Are Guns a Public Health Issue?

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As a pediatrician I have patients who are scared to play in their front yard for fear of getting shot. I have cared for victims of gun violence, some self-inflicted and others from gang conflicts.  

Recently, I spoke at a national meeting of medical students about public health approaches to reducing gun violence. I began the presentation by sketching out the scope of the problem. 30,000 deaths in the United States from gunshot wounds every year. An average of seven children and teens killed every day. And because firearms are the third leading cause of injury related death -- soon to outpace motor vehicle accidents -- I explained this is a public health issue.  

But there are things we can do. Evidence shows that safety measures like keeping a gun unloaded and stored separately from ammunition reduces harm. When a doctor discusses these safety measures in the clinic, patients are more likely to follow them.

However, in Washington, logic and common sense is turned on its head. Special interests threaten to doom President Obama's nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy. Rather than his many public health accomplishments, they are narrowing in on his positions to reduce gun violence such as a ban on assault style weapons and firearm safety training. Hardly radical, both his nomination and his positions on reducing gun violence are supported by leading healthcare and physician organizations as well as the majority of the American public. Our nation has a choice: either address our many public health challenges or allow special interests to set the nation's health agenda.

At the end of my talk one of the medical students in the audience raised her hand. "I am a gun owner. My mom is a pediatrician. I enjoy hunting and I understand the problem of gun violence. So what can I do?"  


My eyes lit up: "Educate your patients, help broker the political divide and help us achieve common sense solutions."

With a Perspective, this is Dr. Ricky Choi.

Dr. Ricky Choi is a Bay Area pediatrician and serves on the board of the National Physicians Alliance.