In March 2018, the SOMA House of Delegates adopted policy concerning the current gun violence epidemic.
As a part of this policy, SOMA called on the AOA to join other physician organizations in the call for Congressional legislation to label gun violence as a national public health epidemic and fund appropriate research at the CDC as part of the federal budget. SOMA’s efforts were successful; the AOA adopted the policy in July 2018.
SOMA’s advocacy to address gun violence continued in 2018. The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is a national public interest law center that promotes and supports measures to reduce gun violence in the United States. In December, SOMA joined an alliance supporting their goal of securing CDC funding to research this crisis.
‘A leading cause of premature death’
Gun violence is a leading cause of premature death in the United States. According to the CDC, firearms are used in between 74 percent and 87 percent of homicides, depending on age, and are used in between 42 percent and 50 percent of suicides.
Furthermore, suicide attempts by firearm have an 82 percent chance of resulting in death, representing the most lethal mode of suicide, based on historical emergency department data.
According to the same CDC report above, from 2015 to 2016 there were 27,394 firearm homicides and 44,955 firearm suicides.
That is a total of 72,349 deaths in a one-year span, which represents approximately 198 deaths a day, or 8 deaths every hour. For comparison, according to the National Vital Statistics Report for 2016, diabetes was the nation’s seventh leading cause of death in 2016 and responsible for roughly 80,000 deaths. The nation’s eighth leading cause of death was influenza/pneumonia and responsible for approximately 52,000 deaths.
Most conservative estimates find that firearm violence can be attributed to at minimum 30,000 deaths annually, and as high as 70,000+, according to the CDC. Even with the lower estimate, we find that firearm violence is still a significant cause of mortality in the United States. For comparison, 33,235 deaths were attributed to essential hypertension and hypertensive renal disease in 2016; it was the nation’s No. 13 leading cause of death for the year.
Lack of research
Despite firearms being related to such high mortality rates, the data on the topic lags far behind that for other leading causes of death. In 2017, using CDC statistics from 2004-14, JAMA found that “gun violence was the least researched cause of death and the second least funded cause of death” in relation to mortality rates.
This lack of research stems from the fact that the CDC and federal entities were for years deterred from freely researching firearm violence due to unforeseen consequences of the Dickey Amendment and now lack sufficient funds to do so.
Funding federal entities to conduct more research on firearm violence will demonstrate which gun violence reduction measures may be most effective.
A report by the RAND Corporation attempted to examine the outcomes of 13 classes of gun policies, such as background checks and concealed-carry laws, on eight categories of gun use outcomes.
The report found that no significant studies had been conducted on the effects of firearm sales reporting requirements, gun-free zones and lost/stolen firearm reporting requirements on gun use outcomes. Also, the report found that no significant studies had been conducted on the impacts of gun policies on officer-involved shootings.
The Giffords coalition stands for evidence-based, data-driven solutions to address gun violence, and we believe that such collaborative efforts are critical to producing high-quality, actionable research that will improve the health and wellbeing of our patients.
SOMA will continue to support efforts to fund gun violence research, and once strong evidence is available, will support data-driven, constitutionally appropriate measures to reduce this public health crisis.