By Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer
Early on Sunday, June 12th, a lone gunman with a semiautomatic rifle carried out the largest mass shooting in United States history at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing dozens of men and women. Our thoughts, prayers and tears go out to the families and friends of the victims, along with our hope for the quick physical recovery for the many injured, though we know the psychological toll will be long-lasting.
So far in 2016, there have been 136 mass shootings (including those with four victims or more) in the US with over 200 deaths. Last year, there were over 13,000 deaths from gun violence in the US. King County is not immune from this epidemic of firearm suicides, homicides and unintentional shootings. Gun violence kills more people each year in King County than car crashes.
This past November, after the Paris terrorist attacks at the Bataclan concert hall, I wrote of the need to recognize gun violence as a public health problem and start to address it accordingly.
I hope we won’t let this latest attack fade away without seeing any change in our approach to gun violence. Washington state’s universal gun purchase background check law is a step in the right direction that should be emulated nationally. But we need to do more.
- We need for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be able to collect data on and study causes of gun violence – which has been effectively banned by Congress since 1996.
- We need resources to strengthen and enact effective strategies that support gun violence prevention, like King County’s LOK-IT-UP! program for safe firearm storage.
- We need to continue to strengthen implementation of existing laws, such as Washington’s new law that allows firearms to be removed in domestic violence situations in certain circumstances.
- We need to better educate ourselves and our families about the role that firearms play in suicide — over half of our King County firearms deaths in adults are suicides — and take concrete steps to remove access to firearms when a person who we know is at risk.
- Where guns are an automatic go-to to solve disputes, or react to slights, we need to find strategies to help our youth see a different way forward.
- We also need to advocate for safer firearms (for example, that only the authorized user can fire).
The recent attack in Orlando, like those that came before, should strengthen our commitment to treating gun violence as a disease and help us start reversing the epidemic of preventable gun-related deaths.
(image via Bustle.com)