Addressing Firearm Violence as a Public Health Crisis

Elizabeth Meade, MD, FAAP
Vice President, WCAAP

On June 19, experts from King County Public Health, WCAAP, Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, King County Medical Society, Washington Chapter of the American College of Physicians, Washington State Medical Association, Washington State Nurses Association, and the Washington State Trauma and EMS Steering Committee came together for a press conference at Harborview to address firearm violence and discuss ways the medical community can address this public health crisis. I was honored to be one of the speakers and to share my experiences, and proud to see the number of pediatricians on the panel – we know that gun violence affects every community, every family, and all too many children in Washington state.

The CDC recently released some alarming new data – suicide is up 56% in children from 2007-2016, and homicide up by 27% in just two years (2014-2016). Firearms are involved in nearly all of those homicides, and almost half of the suicides. There are many more children who are unintentionally shot when they find firearms in their home, or in the home of a friend or relative. We know that many of our patients live in homes with guns, and we also know that firearm-related injury and death is frequently preventable through a comprehensive public health approach to keeping families and communities safe. In fact, safe storage can reduce the risk of youth suicide and unintentional injuries by 70% or more.

At this event, the group focused on primary prevention tactics including gathering data and conducting research to better understand gun-related deaths and the impact of intervention strategies, identifying risk factors and protective factors associated with firearm injury, developing and evaluating interventions, and promoting the adoption of successful prevention strategies. Additionally, we recognized the importance of health care providers in screening for risk factors associated with firearm injury, patient education, and counseling – while recognizing and respecting the range of personal beliefs surrounding lawful firearm ownership. We live in a state rich with diversity on many issues, firearm ownership included, and recognize that we must respect that diversity of perspectives and preferences in our patients.

Representatives from each organization plan to meet again this fall and continue this important work. Priorities for next steps include increasing firearm safety in the home and community, reducing access to firearms by at-risk individuals, expanding access to mental health services, investing in school and community-based prevention, improving gun technology, and funding firearm safety research.

Editor’s note: You can read media coverage of this collaboration here: http://knkx.org/post/your-washington-doctor-may-soon-ask-if-you-own-gun

Initiative 1691

On June 22nd the WCAAP Board of Trustees voted to endorse Initiative 1639, Safe Schools, Safe Communities. As of July 2, 2018, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility anticipated that the initiative would have enough signatures to place it on the ballot in November.