Gun violence is a real threat to public health

The job of Public Health officials is to keep communities safe and healthy. Our work includes immunizing children, preparing for disease outbreaks and natural disasters, and working to prevent chronic disease by reducing obesity and other risks to health.

A major focus of our job is on prevention. When you keep people from getting sick, fewer people need medical care. The result is a savings in both lives and money.

But disease isn’t the only preventable risk to health. Our nation, and our state, also has a problem with gun violence.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, guns are the second-leading cause of injury death in Ohio and the United States as a whole. In 2010, the most recent year for which numbers are available, more than 1,100 people in Ohio died due to firearm injuries.

In addition to their incalculable human toll, firearm-related injuries also present a huge financial burden on society. According to a 2010 “Injury in Ohio” report by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the cost of treating such injuries in our state averages about $37 million each year. About half of this cost falls on taxpayers.

On a national scale, guns account for more than 30,000 deaths each year and billions of dollars in health expenditures. But these costs are not inevitable. The issues surrounding gun violence are complex and deeply rooted, but they can, and should, be explored in order to reduce these tragedies.

Part of the solution is treating gun violence as the preventable Public Health problem it is. Our legislators must ensure that federal agencies such as the CDC have adequate funding to research the causes and prevention of firearm injuries and death.

They also must ensure adequate data are available to design focused gun violence prevention strategies. We can achieve this through a nationwide expansion of CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System, a state-based violent death prevention tool that links data from Public Health, law enforcement, medical examiners and social service agencies to create a more complete picture of the circumstances surrounding violent death.

Congress must act to expand background checks for all gun purchases, and ban the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. These measures enjoy broad appeal among many Americans, with a Gallup poll showing that 91 percent of Americans favor background checks. Yet, our nation’s leaders failed to muster the political will to take action, even in the wake of last year’s mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., an incident that shook the nation to its core.

Finally, we must be aware that some of the deaths and injuries are caused by those who might benefit from increased access to mental health services and to ensure that state and local health systems have the resources to provide mental health treatment to those in need. Unfortunately, funding at the federal and state levels for mental health continues to be threatened by cuts. The Affordable Care Act provides comprehensive coverage for mental health and substance use disorders. We must ensure people have access to this important health protection.

We are thankful for Ohio and national leaders who have spoken in support of reducing gun violence and who have worked to support sensible laws. We need others to follow in this example and take action that will save lives here in Ohio and in communities across the nation.

Courtney Hudson, MPH, CPH, OCPS II

President, Ohio Public Health Association