Advocates Attempt to Rebrand Gun Violence as ‘Public Health’ Issue

9 mm pistol gun and bullets strewn on the table. | Image by Marian Weyo, Shutterstock

This week, local health care professionals gathered at the 2022 North Texas State of Reform Health Policy Conference to “bridge the gap between health policy and political reality.”

Among the many discussions held at this summit, one panel discussed gun violence and public health.

The conversation was led by Sandra McKay of the University of Texas Health Sciences Center and the Baker Institute for Public Policy, Shelli Stephens-Stidham of Safe States Alliance, and Teresa Daniel, District 1 County Commissioner of Dallas County.

“We’ve all got to work together from our various seats to address the parts of it as a public health issue because county government is public health,” said Commissioner Daniel, noting the “linkage between gun violence and mental health, which lands squarely on county government.”

She expressed a desire to learn more about what can and should be done to address gun violence as a public health crisis so she and other government officials can actualize those ideas.

“Firearm injury is predictable and it is preventable,” said McKay. “And we need to be able to collaborate and work together with all the agencies so we can help children reach their full potential.”

McKay discussed the importance of practices like safe storage, saying it is important to work with firearm retailers to initiate conversations with consumers about safe storage.

When most firearm retailers think about gun safety, they focus on how to safely handle a gun but not how to safely store it, according to McKay, and storing a gun safely becomes particularly important for homes with young children. A study published in 2015 found an estimated 110 unintentional firearm deaths among children annually from 2005 to 2012.

“It’s not on their radar when they think about firearm safety,” she said. “They are only thinking about firearm safety like, ‘Never point at anything you’re not willing to shoot. Always put it down.’ They’re talking only about firearm safe handling. Safe storage is not in their vocabulary [or] their thought process.”

McKay used safe storage as an example of how different parties sometimes mean different things despite using the same vocabulary. She said if progress is going to be made, those parties must improve their communication and make sure they have a mutual understanding of the terms they are using.

“Pay attention [to] what’s going on with your kids in school, what’s going on in your community,” she said. “If you see something say something.”

“It’s paying attention,” she continued. “It’s voting. It’s paying attention to who’s making the decisions and what kind of decisions are they making for me, for my community, for my neighborhood, for my schools, for my businesses, for my gun sellers. Pay attention.”           

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