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US surgeon general declares gun violence a public health emergency

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

US surgeon general declares gun violence a public health emergency

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Updated: 2:30 AM PDT Jun 25, 2024

JENNIFER RHONDELLA. THANK YOU KELLYANNE. THE U.S. SUPREME COURT HAS STRUCK DOWN A BAN ON BUMP STOCKS, A DEVICE THAT ALLOWS SEMIAUTOMATIC RIFLES TO FIRE LIKE A MACHINE GUN. NOW THE RULING ONCE AGAIN PUTTING THE GUN VIOLENCE DEBATE BACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT. AND IT’S ALL HAPPENING RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION MONTH. DOCTOR ERIC FLIEGLER IS A PEDIATRIC EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN AT MASS GENERAL FOR CHILDREN. DOCTOR, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US THIS MORNING. WE WANT TO KNOW HOW HAS GUN VIOLENCE CHANGED, HOW YOU DO YOUR JOB? YEAH. UH, SO UNFORTUNATELY, GUN VIOLENCE IS SUCH A HUGE PART OF WHAT HAPPENS IN AMERICA TODAY. UM, WHEN IT COMES TO GUN VIOLENCE, THERE’S A PEDIATRIC EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN. YOU KNOW, WE WORRY ABOUT WHAT ARE THE THINGS THAT ARE HURTING AND KILLING OUR KIDS THE MOST. AND IT TURNS OUT THAT FIREARMS, AS OF 2019, HAVE BECOME THE NUMBER ONE LEADER KILLER OF CHILDREN. THAT’S MORE THAN CANCER, MORE THAN ANY DISEASES, MORE THAN MOTOR VEHICLE CRASHES. SO THAT IS SOMETHING THAT IS A REALITY THAT OUR COUNTRY HAS MOVED TOWARDS AND IS SOMETHING THAT AFFECTS, OF COURSE, OUR WORK IN THE EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT. UM, OF COURSE, OUR GOAL IS TO PREVENT PEOPLE FROM EVER HAVING TO BE HURT BY GUNS SO WE DON’T HAVE TO CARE FOR THEM. AND A LOT OF WHAT I DO AND THE WORK OF MY COLLEAGUES IS TRYING TO THINK ABOUT HOW DO WE ACTUALLY DO FIREARM PREVENTION, FIREARM VIOLENCE PREVENTION, AND TO THAT POINT, FOR FAMILIES WHO DO HAVE GUNS AT HOME, WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU WANT THEM TO KNOW? YEAH. SO, YOU KNOW, MANY FAMILIES IN AMERICA KEEP GUNS BECAUSE THEY WANT THEIR FAMILIES TO BE SAFE. AND THAT’S PART OF HOW THEY VIEW, UM, SAFETY FOR THEIR FAMILY. BUT IT TURNS OUT THAT CHILDREN IN PARTICULAR ARE VERY CURIOUS AND THAT WE REALLY NEED TO THINK ABOUT GUNS, NOT JUST AS A SAFETY, A POTENTIAL SAFETY MEASURE FOR, UM, FOR SAFETY OF YOUR HOME, BUT AS A RISK FOR YOUR CHILD AS WELL. AND SO PEOPLE ARE GOING TO HAVE GUNS AT THE HOME. ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS THAT THEY CAN DO IS MAKE SURE THAT THOSE FIREARMS ARE STORED SECURELY BY SECURELY, I MEAN A COUPLE OF DIFFERENT THINGS. ONE ON THE GUN SHOULD BE STORED UNLOCKED, LOADED. SO WE DO NOT WANT THE AMMUNITION IN THE GUNS THEMSELVES. BECAUSE I’M CURIOUS, CHILDREN GET THEM. OR WHEN DEPRESSED TEENAGERS GET THEM, UM, THEY’RE A HIGH RISK. SECOND, THOSE FIREARMS MUST BE STORED SECURELY. THAT MEANS LOCKED UP AND LOCKED UP IN A WAY THAT THE CHILD THEMSELVES DOES NOT KNOW HOW TO ACCESS IT AND CANNOT GET IT OUT. BECAUSE IF THEY CAN, THEN IT’S REALLY NOT MAKING A DIFFERENCE. MOST PEOPLE DON’T THINK ABOUT THIS IN ADVANCE. THEY THINK, YOU KNOW, I’VE TAUGHT MY CHILD ABOUT GUN SAFETY. I’VE MAY HAVE TAKEN THEM TO THE SHOOTING RANGE. AND SO THEY SHOULD BE OKAY. BUT THAT’S NOT WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT. WE’RE TALKING ABOUT WHEN CHILDREN REACH SEVERE DEPRESSION OR PEOPLE GET CURIOUS AND THEY WANT TO SHOW IT TO THEIR FRIEND, THAT’S WHEN THOSE ACCIDENTS HAPPEN. OVER 10,000 CHILDREN, EVERY SINGLE YEAR ARE DYING FROM GUNS. AND THIS IS SOMETHING NO FAMILY SHOULD EVER HAVE TO DEAL WITH. WHEN WE TALK ABOUT GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION, THE IDEA IS TO HAVE THAT DISCUSSION BEFORE THERE’S EVEN A NEED FOR THE EMERGENCY ROOM TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HOW THOSE CONVERSATIONS ARE NOW HAPPENING WITH THE FAMILIES. SURE. SO, YOU KNOW, AS A PHYSICIAN, WE’RE USED TO HAVING MANY INTERESTING CONVERSATIONS WITH FAMILIES THAT COULD INCLUDE ABOUT DO YOU WEAR A SEATBELT? DO YOU USE CAR SEATS? UH, TALK ABOUT DRUNK DRIVING, TALKING ABOUT SMOKING AND SEXUAL ACTIVITY. UH, THESE ARE TOPICS THAT COULD POTENTIALLY BE UNCOMFORTABLE, BUT ACTUALLY, WE DO A REALLY NICE JOB OF HAVING THESE CONVERSATIONS WITH FAMILIES TALKING ABOUT GUNS. UH, IT IS HAS TO BE PART OF THE SAME THING. AND SO WE REALLY ENCOURAGE, UH, PHYSICIANS, NURSE PRACTITIONERS, OTHER PEOPLE, MENTAL HEALTH PROVIDERS WHO WHO TALK WITH FAMILIES, UH, TO TALK ABOUT THIS UP FRONT, TO HAVE FRANK DISCUSSIONS AND TO ALSO RECOGNIZE THAT, YOU KNOW, FAMILIES ARE TRYING TO TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES AND THAT WE NEED TO BE VERY COGNIZANT THAT WE NEED TO BE CONSIDER OF THEIR FEELINGS ABOUT THIS. BUT WE NEED TO HAVE THESE CONVERSATIONS. IT NEEDS TO BE DONE IN A MEANINGFUL WAY, IN SUCH A WAY THAT WE CAN HAVE A COLLABORATION. MAKES SENSE. I MEAN, NOW THEY ASK, DO YOU FEEL SAFE AT HOME? SO WHY NOT ROLL ALL OF THE IMPORTANT TOPICS INTO THOSE DISCUSSIONS? DOCTOR ERIC FIGLER, A PEDIATRIC EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN AT MASS GENERAL HOSPITAL

The U.S. surgeon general on Tuesday declared gun violence a public health crisis, driven by the fast-growing number of injuries and deaths involving firearms in the country.The advisory issued by Dr. Vivek Murthy, the nation’s top doctor, came as the U.S. grappled with another summer weekend marked by mass shootings that left dozens of people dead or wounded.“People want to be able to walk through their neighborhoods and be safe,” Murthy told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “America should be a place where all of us can go to school, go to work, go to the supermarket, go to our house of worship, without having to worry that that’s going to put our life at risk.”To drive down gun deaths, Murthy calls on the U.S. to ban automatic rifles, introduce universal background checks for purchasing guns, regulate the industry, pass laws that would restrict their use in public spaces and penalize people who fail to safely store their weapons.None of those suggestions can be implemented nationwide without legislation passed by Congress, which typically recoils at gun control measures. Some state legislatures, however, have enacted or may consider some of the surgeon general’s proposals. Murthy said there is “broad agreement” that gun violence is a problem, citing a poll last year that found most Americans worry at least sometimes that a loved one might be injured by a firearm. More than 48,000 Americans died from gun injuries in 2022.His advisory promises to be controversial and will certainly incense Republican lawmakers, most of whom opposed Murthy’s confirmation — twice — to the job over his statements on gun violence.Murthy has published warnings about troubling health trends in American life, including social media use and loneliness. He’s stayed away from issuing a similar advisory about gun violence since his 2014 confirmation as surgeon general was stalled and nearly derailed by the firearm lobby and Republicans who opposed his past statements about firearms.Murthy ended up promising the Senate that he did “not intend to use my office as surgeon general as a bully pulpit on gun control.”Then-President Donald Trump dismissed Murthy in 2017, but President Joe Biden nominated Murthy again to the position in 2021. At his second confirmation hearing, he told senators that declaring guns a public health crisis would not be his focus during a new term.But he has faced mounting pressure from some doctors and Democratic advocacy groups to speak out more. A group of four former surgeon generals asked the Biden administration to produce a report on the problem in 2022.“It is now time for us to take this issue out of the realm of politics and put it in the realm of public health, the way we did with smoking more than a half century ago,” Murthy told the AP.A 1964 report from the surgeon general that raised awareness about the dangers of smoking is largely credited with snubbing out tobacco use and precipitating regulations on the industry.Children and younger Americans, in particular, are suffering from gun violence, Murthy notes in his advisory called “Firearm Violence: A Public Health Crisis in America.” Suicide by gun rates have increased significantly in recent years for Americans under the age of 35. Children in the U.S. are far more likely to die from gun wounds than children in other countries, the research he gathered shows.In addition to new regulations, Murthy calls for an increase on gun violence research and for the health system — which is likely to be more amenable to his advisory — to promote gun safety education during doctor visits.

The U.S. surgeon general on Tuesday declared gun violence a public health crisis, driven by the fast-growing number of injuries and deaths involving firearms in the country.

The advisory issued by Dr. Vivek Murthy, the nation’s top doctor, came as the U.S. grappled with another summer weekend marked by mass shootings that left dozens of people dead or wounded.

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“People want to be able to walk through their neighborhoods and be safe,” Murthy told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “America should be a place where all of us can go to school, go to work, go to the supermarket, go to our house of worship, without having to worry that that’s going to put our life at risk.”

To drive down gun deaths, Murthy calls on the U.S. to ban automatic rifles, introduce universal background checks for purchasing guns, regulate the industry, pass laws that would restrict their use in public spaces and penalize people who fail to safely store their weapons.

None of those suggestions can be implemented nationwide without legislation passed by Congress, which typically recoils at gun control measures. Some state legislatures, however, have enacted or may consider some of the surgeon general’s proposals.

Murthy said there is “broad agreement” that gun violence is a problem, citing a poll last year that found most Americans worry at least sometimes that a loved one might be injured by a firearm. More than 48,000 Americans died from gun injuries in 2022.

His advisory promises to be controversial and will certainly incense Republican lawmakers, most of whom opposed Murthy’s confirmation — twice — to the job over his statements on gun violence.

Murthy has published warnings about troubling health trends in American life, including social media use and loneliness. He’s stayed away from issuing a similar advisory about gun violence since his 2014 confirmation as surgeon general was stalled and nearly derailed by the firearm lobby and Republicans who opposed his past statements about firearms.

Murthy ended up promising the Senate that he did “not intend to use my office as surgeon general as a bully pulpit on gun control.”

Then-President Donald Trump dismissed Murthy in 2017, but President Joe Biden nominated Murthy again to the position in 2021. At his second confirmation hearing, he told senators that declaring guns a public health crisis would not be his focus during a new term.

But he has faced mounting pressure from some doctors and Democratic advocacy groups to speak out more. A group of four former surgeon generals asked the Biden administration to produce a report on the problem in 2022.

“It is now time for us to take this issue out of the realm of politics and put it in the realm of public health, the way we did with smoking more than a half century ago,” Murthy told the AP.

A 1964 report from the surgeon general that raised awareness about the dangers of smoking is largely credited with snubbing out tobacco use and precipitating regulations on the industry.

Children and younger Americans, in particular, are suffering from gun violence, Murthy notes in his advisory called “Firearm Violence: A Public Health Crisis in America.” Suicide by gun rates have increased significantly in recent years for Americans under the age of 35. Children in the U.S. are far more likely to die from gun wounds than children in other countries, the research he gathered shows.

In addition to new regulations, Murthy calls for an increase on gun violence research and for the health system — which is likely to be more amenable to his advisory — to promote gun safety education during doctor visits.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.