The horrific shooting on Sunday at First Baptist Church in Southerland Springs, Texas, was yet the latest incarnation of gun violence in our nation.
I, for one, am long past tired of “thoughts and prayers” platitudes that follow such incidents. I am sick of the excuses for inaction, the desperately short memories of so many Americans quick to move on to the next salacious Hollywood headline or Washington scandal. I am impatient with the paralysis of our collective creativity that keeps us from figuring out how to reduce this carnage. I am upset with elected officials, educators, advertising execs, law enforcement personnel and—mostly—with myself for failing to address this profound problem with workable approaches, instead of more same-old, same-old clichés.
But this is not a negative post. It is actually about a hopeful stirring within me once I discovered an OpEd in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof entitled A New Way to Tackle Gun Deaths. In essence, the article challenges us to take “an evidence-based public health approach” to gun violence as we have done for other elements in our society that have caused or can keep us from harm. We did it with seat belts, cigarettes, swimming pools, household poisons. We can do it with guns.
If we “change the story” from gun control to public health, frame our arguments on evidence instead of emotion and mount a cohesive movement across the political and cultural spectrum, perhaps we can have a positive impact on the epidemic (that’s even a public health term) of gun violence in this country.
The OpEd contains several graphics by Bill Marsh, and actually it is these images that I found most compelling, that caught and held my attention and prompted me to write. The most arresting graphic was the last one, comparing the number of studies commissioned on gun violence with those commissioned for other deadly “diseases.”
Last month, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic as a national health emergency. We could argue that he should have used the word “crisis” which would have freed up actual money to fight this scourge. But at least there was official acknowledgement of the extent to which abuse of drugs impacts our country. And while the number of drug overdoses continues to rise relentlessly, research from the CDC claims that there are about as many deaths from gun violence as from opioid abuse.
So, let’s get smart, mobilize nationally with the intent of re-framing the issue, lean hard on policy makers and opinion leaders to view the issue of guns in our society through the lens of a public health issue that is killing our people at an alarming rate. We can do this.