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Could Reframing Gun Violence As A Public Health Crisis Help Solve The Problem?

Mario Tama
Getty Images
Volunteers pray over white handmade crosses memorializing the victims of a mass shooting which left at least 22 people dead on August 5, 2019 in El Paso, Texas.

Two mass shootings in Texasand Ohio over the weekend took the lives of more than 30 people, renewing calls to change the way we think about gun violence.

Dr. Stephen Hargarten directs the Comprehensive Injury Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin. For decades, he’s been researching gun violence, and working to frame it as a public health crisis. Hargarten says that if we reframe the issue, more money could be spent to study and possibly prevent gun violence.

“Close to 40,000 people die each year due to gun violence — homicides, suicides. We don’t even know how many people were injured because the data is so fragmented. So, imagine some other disease inflicting death and disability in our communities, we would fund it appropriately,” Hargarten says.

READ: How The U.S. Compares With Other Countries In Deaths From Gun Violence

Hargarten says he would like to see somewhere between $200 million and $500 million given to the National Institutes of Health annually to study gun violence as a disease.

While mass shootings get most people's attention, Hargarten says what gets less attention is the gun violence happening every day in our community.

“That goes relatively unnoticed in terms of outcry and in terms of calls for research. I think that’s where we need to do a better job of advocating to our policymakers we need to understand this better,” Hargarten says.

READ: 'Do Something!': Calls For Action After Mass Shootings In El Paso & Dayton

He says that in the 1980s this form of research was funded but that money dried up. These days, he says it always seems that we are on the verge of a tipping point.

“It is so challenging and so frustrating. We start to look at events that may be the tipping point for constructive, thoughtful funding — and each time you think this is the one that perhaps is the tipping point,” Hargarten says.

Still, Hargarten says there are reasons to also be hopeful. He says three states — California, New Jersey and Washington — now recognize gun violence as a public health crisis. He's calling upon Wisconsin lawmakers to do the same.

Hargarten also says that the major health organization Kaiser Permanente is funding gun violence prevention research.

He says these are small, incremental steps, but he’s playing the long game.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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