As nurses and health care professionals, can we all agree that anything which kills 30,000 Americans and injures 70,000 more each year is a serious public health issue? If so, then maybe we can look at gun violence that way. Because those are our annual casualty figures from guns in this country. Personally, I’m not pro-gun, I’m not anti-gun. I’ve never owned a gun. But I’m a nurse. That means when I see any health problem that widespread, I want to find solutions. Practical solutions, based on real data.
Americans often have very personal feelings about guns. When the issue comes up, they often seem to choose sides based on emotional arguments and rigid positions. But I suspect that we as health care professionals bring a unique perspective to this issue and are mostly united in at least two ways. First of all, whenever we hear about another mass shooting, we can’t help but think of all of our experiences with ill, injured and dying patients and their families. Secondly, our approach to our work is evidence-based. We want to attack every health problem with the most effective treatment. Fortunately, there’s more good solid data and more widespread agreement on solutions to gun violence than you’d think when listening to the extreme viewpoints which get the most media attention.
The data clearly shows: more guns = more gun deaths. When countries are compared, or different states in the US, stronger gun prevention laws and lower gun ownership rates mean fewer gun deaths. On the other hand, there’s no good data to support the argument that more guns = greater safety. People with easy access to guns are twice as likely to be homicide victims and three times more likely to commit suicide than people without. In 30 years not a single mass shooting has been stopped by an armed civilian. In an ER shooting, chances are 1 in 5 the gun was taken from the security guard.
Fortunately, many polls show overwhelming support among Americans for some solutions such as universal background checks on gun buyers; and at least majority support for bans on assault weapons and certain kinds of ammo. A large majority favors increased government spending on mental health. Even the NRA has supported some state laws restricting gun purchases based on criteria involving mental illness. I’d guess that most UNAC/UHCP members would support more resources going to mental health care in this country. Overall, I think that we as health professionals and voices trusted by the public can and should contribute our unique perspective to the larger conversation on this issue.
Ken Deitz, RN