Mount Sinai Public Health Expert Joins ‘Call to Action’ on Gun Safety
Nils Hennig, MD, MPH, Director of the Graduate Program in Public Health at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and public health leaders from the nation’s top universities have authored an unprecedented call to action on gun safety, urging consensus-building rather than confrontation, which will be published in the American Journal of Public Health on Thursday, January 19.
These researchers from nine leading medical and public health schools – speaking for a larger group of 82 academics and advocates who convened at the Boston University School of Public Health in November to discuss gun violence – presented an “agenda for action” that seeks to engage gun owners and manufacturers in discussions about reducing the public health ills associated with firearm ownership, rather than continuing the politically polarizing debate.
“More than 30,000 people are killed by firearms each year in this country,” said Dr. Hennig. “In response to this epidemic it is our responsibility to build an inclusive coalition and examine the scientific evidence to promote gun safety and save lives.”
The call to action proposed:
- Focusing on state-level initiatives. The researchers said the expected lack of federal action on gun regulation in the coming years “elevates the importance” of state and local initiatives, especially those rooted in “non-threatening messaging” about gun safety. They noted that three states – California, Nevada and Washington – approved ballot initiatives in November promoting gun safety. A state-level strategy “creates a range of opportunities” for academic leaders around the country to develop state-specific strategies and policies, they said.
- Promoting discourse around gun safety, rather than gun control. The researchers acknowledged that few issues were as polarizing as guns, and that the gun lobby had been “extraordinarily successful” in framing the discussion as one that pits “deeply held views about individual rights” against concerns about public health. To alleviate that conflict, public health advocates must play a role in reframing the debate “around the need for gun safety, rather than a blanket call for banning guns.”
- Engaging private industry, starting with health care entities. The researchers said industry involvement is needed for evidence-based initiatives to reduce gun injuries, citing research findings that firearm violence depresses business growth and harms neighborhood economics. They noted that the total social cost of gun-related injuries is more than that of obesity, and roughly the same as annual spending on Medicaid. “This situation represents an enormous economic challenge … that should engage not only the public health community, but also sectors of private industry, with an interest in maximizing productivity,” they said.
- Building collaborations with opponents. The group proposed convening an “inclusive group” of firearm owners, manufacturers, police officials, pro-gun advocates, and public health scholars to develop “common ground” around the issue of reducing violence, versus assailing gun ownership.
The other co-authors include Charles Branas, professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine; Andrew Flescher, associate professor at the Stony Brook Medicine Program in Public Health; Margaret Formica, assistant professor at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University; Karen Liller, professor at the University of South Florida College of Public Health; Hala Madanat, director and professor of the division of health promotion and behavioral science at San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health; Andrew Park, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine; John Rosenthal, president of Meredith Management and founder of Stop Handgun Violence; and Jun Ying, director of the MPH program at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
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