Letter to the editor: Gun deaths a public health issue

The tragic massacre in Florida and Vermont’s own “near miss” in Fair Haven emphasizes that we continue to be caught up in an epidemic of gun violence. Over 33.000 people die in firearm related incidences in the US annually. In Vermont, 420 people died from gun-related violence in the period of 2011-2016, with many being the result of domestic violence and suicide. And yet, the same pattern repeats every time a tragedy occurs: Groups retreat to tired talking points that are created and promoted by vested interests.
What if we changed our perspective and moved this debate out of the political realm? What if we thought of gun violence in terms of a disease?
With disease related epidemics, a public health approach has proven effective. This method determines the cause of the issue and implements evidence-based prevention strategies, using public education, thoughtful public policies, and regulations. This approach has worked over generations to minimize illness and death associated with traditional epidemics.
The Vermont Public Health Association believes we can and should use these same strategies to reduce the injuries and deaths associated with the wide availability of guns.
Thus, the passage of the bills now being considered by state legislators are part of a solid public health process. These bills address several weaknesses in existing law by strengthening background checks and enabling police to remove firearms in crisis situations. We now have a real opportunity to make common sense changes that will increase public safety by going beyond the charged political debate.
Sally Kerschner, RN, MSN
Vermont Public Health Association

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