More than just grabbing headlines, the recent horrific Sin City mass shooting massacre served as a grim reminder of the epidemic of gun violence in America. The term “epidemic” is often reserved for medical problems, which conversely links to issues of public health. And now, gun violence stands together with opioid addiction as one of America’s latest public health issue.

The cost of gun violence

A recent study by the Johns Hopkins University found that more than 100,000 people are shot each year in the US, adding up to a total cost of USD2.8 billion in hospital charges.

Where mass shootings happen infrequently yet generate great media attention – the “more” common forms of gun violence are the exact opposite. High-profile gun violence – such as homicide, suicide and everyday violence – happens on a daily basis, kills many more; yet receives little to no media attention.

These factors serve to perpetuate gun violence with little acknowledgement from either the public or the government. All of this, despite the fact that gun violence is the third-leading injury-related cause of death in America, only behind drug overdose and motor vehicle accidents.

Between 2006 and 2014, more than 100,000 people were involved in gun violence, with approximately 36,500 people dying from firearms-related injuries in 2015 alone. America has the highest firearm homicide rates among developed countries; six times more than Canada and nearly 16 times more than Germany. However, with only 4.4% of the global population, America has half of the world’s civilian-owned guns.

This has resulted in more than 1,500 mass shooting since December 2012 and, in 2015, an average of more than one mass shooting every day. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that in the past decade alone, a million people has been wounded or killed as a result of gun violence.

“The numbers are really, really startling,” expressed Faiz Gani, one of the authors of the study and a post-doctoral research fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine department of surgery. “Previous studies just focused on the mortality, but ignored the larger chunk of people who don’t die but are affected by this issue.

“That really struck me as something that was really alarming. There are 100,000 people who are affected and we’re not really doing anything.”

If the loss of life and limb were not bad enough, there is also the matter of costs incurred. The cost of gunshot wounds is incredibly expensive. Receiving treatment in an emergency department, on average, costs over USD5,000. While those who stayed overnight, were charged almost 20 times more at USD95,887 on average.

This high cost is further compounded to astronomical rates by the need for rehabilitation and loss in productivity. Combined with medical costs, the financial burden of gun violence costs America roughly USD45 billion each year.

America has 4.4% of the world’s population, but almost half of the civilian-owned guns around the world. This conversely has resulted in the highest proportion of gun violence around the world.
America has 4.4% of the world’s population, but almost half of the civilian-owned guns around the world. This conversely has resulted in the highest proportion of gun violence around the world.

Response to recent threats of gun violence

Following the events in Las Vegas, prominent American medical groups have publicly spoken up against gun violence whilst calling for more gun control. These groups include the American Public Health Association, American Medical Association, American College of Physicians and American Academy of Pediatrics.

"This terrible tragedy is another reminder that we still need to address the role of gun violence in our country," addressed Dr Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association (APHA). "Individuals everywhere deserve laws that protect them from random acts of violence like this one,” he added.

The American Medical Association (AMA), America’s largest doctor group, tweeted "Gun violence is a public health crisis, evident by the senseless loss of life and injury in Las Vegas."

Both the American Medical Association and American College of Physicians have labelled gun violence as a public health issue. With the American College of Physicians calling for a ban in sale and ownership of automatic and semiautomatic weapons.

Even US President, Donald Trump, has opened up to the suggestion of tightening gun laws mentioning, “We’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes on.” While he did not offer any further details, this comes as a surprise from Trump’s previous support for gun ownership, especially throughout his campaign trail.

Nevertheless, the House still remains divided with Republicans calling for unity and Democrats calling for immediate action.

A stop to gun violence

While many would be quick to dismiss gun violence as any sort of public health issue, the evidence to prove it is compelling enough. In less than a decade, a million people have been wounded or killed as a result of gun violence.

Politics and debates aside, one thing is for certain, gun violence is now a new public health issue that America faces. Whether the present and very real threat of gun violence is taken seriously, falls entirely upon the actions of the current administration. MIMS

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