Guns and violence

There is a cure…

America is often like a spoiled child, prone to striking back and committing random acts of violence. We supply the guns and bullets to wipeout large numbers of children at a public school in a white, middle class community like Newtown, Connecticut or a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado or every day on the streets of Allentown and Philadelphia.

It’s a community crisis. It’s a legal crisis. It’s a crisis of the 2nd Amendment, everyone debates! But, what we have yet to learn most importantly is that “guns and violence” is a health crisis of enormous proportions.  When we have looked at an issue as a health crisis, there is actually some track record of success. Cigarette smoking is one example and we are even beginning to make a small dent on the drug issue when it is viewed as a health crisis.

How would we begin the process of making the “guns and violence” issue a health issue? A first step is understanding “guns and violence” as a community disease. Characteristics include the gender issues of men and machismo, power and violence. A friend of mine recently lost a relative, a 16 year older, to a suicide with a rifle. He had a difficult telephone conversation with his girlfriend and went into the basement and pulled the trigger. The father said he bought the gun for male bonding with his son. The boy had no history of mental health problems.

Another characteristic is that “guns and violence” can be contagious. The promotion and deification of guns has been a prominent part of our history. If through education and fear, we can begin to take the cool out of cigarette smoking maybe we can do the same with “violence and guns.”

Then, of course, you cannot talk about this community disease without a discussion around the ease of access to guns and bullets.  These weapons of “real mass destruction” can be bought illegally and legally.  I remember walking down a street in North Philadelphia some ten years ago and witnessing a trunk load of guns being sold out of a car in front of an Episcopal church.

Pennsylvania requires no gun registration, although we have background checks. We have no restrictions on the type of gun that can be purchased and even minors with parental supervision can have a gun.  Pennsylvania has a large membership in the National Rifle Association.

Therefore, political will is essential to begin to transform this issue into a health crisis. We did start restricting who could buy cigarettes.  We should be able to put some restrictions on the purchase of guns and bullets.

I suspect hospitals lose money dealing with gun violence in the millions of dollars and more. The health care industry could be a powerful ally in finding a cure for “guns and violence.” The social cost of the loss of life and limb in our communities combined with the cost of medical and police services may even be enough to avoid “a fiscal cliff.”

We have a real opportunity to change the landscape of this discussion and move it way from a 2nd Amendment debate to an  issue of our community health. Who knows, maybe will spend the money saved on early childhood education and help children learn instead of killing them.

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