Gun violence has been a hot topic in the media for a number of months now given the recent tragedies in the United States. Recently, I was drawn to an article published in the January 7th edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association that provides a unique, and certainly thought-provoking, set of solutions to preventing gun violence based upon successful public health campaigns such as non-smoking, unintentional poisoning, and motor vehicle safety.
It’s hard to imagine guns as an issue of public health, and it’s hard to put mass shootings in the same category as smoking. Despite this, I believe a multifaceted public health approach could be exactly what this issue needs. The paper outlines concrete examples of successful public health solutions that could be applied to gun violence; some examples include safety features such as security locking devices, routine safety checks, education, and restrictions on particular firearms. However, these weren’t the suggestions in the article that really caught my attention. What I found particularly interesting were the parallels the authors drew between the prevention of gun violence and the prevention of smoking.
While there is no doubt that everyone feels a sense of shock and horror whenever tragedies involving gun violence occur, we live in a culture in which violence, especially gun violence, is commonplace. The television shows we watch, the movies we see, and the video games our children play are often riddled with gunplay. The authors of this study take note of this, and compare it to the portrayal of smoking throughout the 20th century. Smoking was depicted as incredibly glamorous until a comprehensive media and educational campaign shifted the culture norm. This shift ultimately resulted in a huge reduction in the number of smokers. These authors argue a similar campaign needs to be launched against gun violence. Instead of watching programmes in which violence is glorified and normalized, we need to present gun use as cowardly and villainous. This might sound trivial given the gravity and complexity of the issue, yet it is small changes such as these that ultimately change the social perception towards gun violence.
The authors of this paper strongly support more traditional solutions to gun violence, such as those proposed last week by President Obama, but they argue that a broad-spectrum public health approach is necessary in order to effectively and comprehensibly find a solution to this issue. They argue that a “policy aimed exclusively at the individual perpetrator of gun violence would be no more effective than a motor vehicle injury prevention strategy focused only on the individual driver in a motor vehicle crash.”
Why do we wear seatbelts, or resolve to quit smoking and lose weight every year? We do it in part for ourselves, but also because these are the things that society expects from us. We are all responsible for ensuring we live in a safe environment. We might doubt the impact our own attitudes can have on our society, but the sooner we reject violence, the sooner we will live in a safer environment.
Image CC Crashworks on Flickr