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US Surgeon General declares American gun violence a public health crisis

In a landmark announcement, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has declared gun violence a public health crisis. This historic move aims to curb the United States’ role as a leader in global shooting deaths by adopting a public health approach, similar to strategies used to enhance seatbelt safety and reduce smoking rates.

Dr. Murthy’s first-of-its-kind report emphasizes that the majority of Americans or their family members have been affected by gun violence. The Surgeon General hopes to depoliticize the issue, urging Americans to focus on its impacts and the data. “I want people to understand the full impact gun violence is having on the United States,” Dr. Murthy told the BBC.

For every life lost to gun violence, Dr. Murthy highlights that two people are injured, resulting in significant mental and physical health consequences. The ripple effects extend to grieving family members, witnesses, and millions who read about these incidents daily. The report underscores the broad and deep impact of gun violence, which has reshaped American lives.

Gun safety advocates are cautiously optimistic, viewing this advisory as a step toward changing public perception. Dr. Chethan Sathya, director of Northwell Health’s Center for Gun Violence Prevention, stated, “This is not a political issue. This is about safer communities, firearm safety, and violence prevention.”

Despite being largely symbolic and not enforcing policy changes, the 40-page report legitimizes the discussion of using public health resources to tackle gun violence. Experts like Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, whose research is cited in the report, advocate for evidence-based policies to address the crisis.

Since 2020, firearms have become the leading cause of death for children and younger Americans. The death rate from guns in the US is 11.4 times higher than in 28 other high-income countries, underscoring the uniquely American nature of the problem.

Dr. Murthy’s advisory calls for increased federal investment in firearm violence research, community-based interventions, and education programs. It also encourages policymakers to pass laws on safe firearm storage, implement universal background checks, ban assault weapons, and increase mental health care. These measures aim to prevent firearm violence and its devastating effects on American communities.

The announcement has received mixed reactions. Major health organizations and some lawmakers praised the effort, emphasizing the preventable nature of gun violence. The American Public Health Association welcomed the report, calling on Americans to take action to end this health crisis. However, conservative groups like the National Rifle Association criticized the declaration, framing it as part of a broader political agenda.

As the US grapples with this crisis, Dr. Murthy’s call to action highlights the need for a collective commitment to change. “We don’t have to continue down this path,” he stated. “It will take the collective commitment of our nation to turn the tide.”