Waking Up to Another (Preventable) Tragedy

The mass shooting Thursday at Umpqua Community College in Oregon is heartbreaking–especially for the students and families directly affected. But it is tragic in a different way for those of us in public health who have followed the trajectory of gun violence in the U.S. and tried to sound a call for change.

Firearm deaths are a preventable epidemic.

There is no other cause of death that we know how to prevent so readily–and that, time and time again, we do nothing about.

And so we wake up today to the latest of more than 40 school shootings this year–the headlines so familiar to us, even as the geography and the faces of grief change.

The extraordinary prevalence of firearm-related violence in the U.S. stands in harsh contrast to our peer nations. Between the Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999, and the end of 2012, for example, there were 66 school shootings in the world, of which 50 occurred in the U.S. In 2003, the U.S. had the highest rate of firearm homicide (6.9 times higher than others) and firearm suicide (5.8 times higher) among 23 populous high-income nations.

The U.S. clearly has a long and complicated relationship with firearms, and, constitutional rights aside, there are abundant organizations and high-profile arguments on the side of unfettered firearm availability. But while the arguments around the rights to gun ownership often center around self-protection from other firearms, the evidence is overwhelmingly clear that this claim is not supported by data.

Studies on the risks of firearm availability on mortality have provided strong evidence of an increased risk of both homicide and suicide. A recent meta-analysis of 16 observational studies, conducted mostly in the U.S., estimated that firearm accessibility was associated with an odds ratio of 3.24 —> Read More