On Tuesday, the American Medical Association (AMA) declared gun violence “a public health crisis” and said it was going to actively lobby Congress to overturn 20-year-old legislation that has prohibited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from researching gun violence.
“With approximately 30,000 men, women and children dying each year at the barrel of a gun in elementary schools, movie theaters, workplaces, houses of worship and on live television, the United States faces a public health crisis of gun violence,” said Dr. Steven Stack, president of the AMA, in a released statement. “Even as America faces a crisis unrivaled in any other developed country, the Congress prohibits the CDC from conducting the very research that would help us understand the problems associated with gun violence and determine how to reduce the high rate of firearm-related deaths and injuries.”
“An epidemiological analysis of gun violence is vital so physicians and other health providers, law enforcement, and society at large may be able to prevent injury, death and other harms to society resulting from firearms,” he added.
The AMA, which is the largest physician organization in the country, has supported gun control for several decades. It stated it is stepping up its efforts on this issue “in the wake of the worst mass shooting in American history and with more than 6,000 deaths already in 2016 from gun violence.”
“America is looking to its physicians for our voice on this public health crisis. We will not stand idly by and watch our fellow Americans be slaughtered by the thousands,” Dr. Joshua Cohen, a New York neurologist and author of the AMA’s resolution to end Congress’ ban on gun-violence research, told MedPage Today editor Joyce Frieden.
‘An average day of gun violence in America’
Sunday’s mass shooting in Orlando, which left 49 people dead and 53 injured, was horrific, but as Vox reporter Zachary Crockett points out, those weren’t the only gun-related murders in the U.S. that day.
There were at least 42 other shootings in 16 different states on Sunday, he reports. That violence left 18 people dead, including at least five children. Another 41 people were injured.
In that respect, “it was just an average day of gun violence in America,” writes Crockett.
Nor are mass shootings — defined as four or more people shot in one incidence, not including the shooter — rare in the United States. As the British-based Guardian newspaper notes in its own article this week about U.S. gun violence, the country experiences, on average, one mass shooting on five out of every six days.
Indeed, there was a second mass shooting on Sunday, some 1,700 miles from Orlando.
“In New Mexico,” reports Crockett, “a man shot and killed his wife and four children, ages 14, 11, 7, and 3. They were found dead in their home by a relative; the shooter, who fled the scene, is still at large.”
Nor was Orlando the only site of gun-related violence in Florida on Sunday. Four other shootings took place in that state that same day, including two that ended in deaths.
An extreme outlier
As an article in the New York Times points out, when gun homicides in the U.S. — which numbered 8,124 in 2014, according to the FBI — are measured against those of other advanced countries, it’s clear just how much of an outlier we are.
In the U.S., the death rate from gun homicides is about 31 per million people per year — “the equivalent of 27 people shot dead every day of the year,” write Times reporters Kevin Quealy and Margo Sanger-Katz.
By contrast, the rate in Germany, the Netherlands and Austria is only about 2 per million — about as often as people in the U.S. are killed by a falling object or die from hypothermia, the reporters note.
In Great Britain and Poland, the death rate from gun homicides is about 1 per million — about the rate at which U.S. residents die in an agricultural accident or from falling off a ladder.
Then there’s Japan, where gun-related homicides are even rarer. The likelihood of being murdered with a gun in Japan, write Quealy and Sanger-Katz, “is about the same as an American’s chance of being killed by lightning — roughly one in 10 million.”
“International comparisons help highlight how exceptional the United States is: In a nation where the right to bear arms is cherished by much of the population, gun homicides are a significant public health concern,” Quealy and Sanger-Katz write. “For men 15 to 29, they are the third-leading cause of death, after accidents and suicides.”
“In other high-income countries, gun homicides are unusual events,” they add. “Last year’s Paris attacks killed 130 people, which is nearly as many as die from gun homicides in all of France in a typical year. But even if France had a mass shooting as deadly as the Paris attacks every month, its annual rate of gun homicide death would be lower than that in the United States.”
FMI: The Vox, Guardian and New York Times articles all contain visuals that powerfully illustrate the enormity of the U.S. gun-violence problem. I particulary recommend the Times’ graph. You will find information about gun-relating shootings across the U.S., updated daily, on the website of the nonprofit group Gun Violence Archive.