Preventing gun violence:
A call to hospitals

“Hospitals should view their role in reducing senseless shootings and homicides as essential as their role in improving their community’s health.”

By Carol McCarthy
As national publicity about our hometown Chicago’s gun violence continues, along with mass shootings in U.S. cities from Aurora, New Town, San Bernadino and now, Kalamazoo, I am concerned about the healthcare industry’s acceptance of this “new normal.”

After Sandy Hook, Congress chose to reject comprehensive background checks.

After San Bernadino, Congress couldn’t agree to restrict gun ownership for individuals on the terror list.

Why are we accepting this and doing nothing? I wonder why the nation’s hospitals appear to stay silent in the face of this growing public health issue, while at the same time they do everything possible to save the lives of innocent victims rushed to their doors. Is a hospital industry call for enforcement, or enacting sensible gun laws such as background checks, too much to ask in light of growing evidence and common sense?

Well-designed studies show that common sense gun laws can make a difference.

In 1993, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that “keeping a gun in the home was strongly and independently associated with an increased risk of homicide” in that home.

In 2007, Missouri eliminated a decades-old system under which every handgun buyer had to obtain a permit and undergo a background check. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that the firearm-homicide rate increased by 34% in the first year after the repeal and remained significantly higher that it had been, while the rate of homicides committed with other weapons did not change. The researchers controlled for other explanations, including policing levels and incarceration rates and the sharp increase in shootings was unique to the region.

The firearm suicide rate in Missouri rose, too.

In contrast, a study published in 2014 by the American Journal of Public Health showed that a 1995 Connecticut law did the opposite. Enacting a similar permit system that Missouri dropped was associated with a 43% reduction in firearm-homicide rates.

For decades, the mission of national and state hospital associations has focused on promoting healthier communities and helping individuals reach their highest health potential. It’s time for our nation’s hospital associations to come forward. At the very least, they must advocate for and support enforcement of background checks, which are supported by the majority of Americans.