Dr. Michael Forster

Violence is a continuous public health nightmare

Horrific events like the Newton mass murder naturally rivet the national attention, at least while the horror remains fresh.  Who knows?  The shock and perceived need to “do something” this time around may be urgent enough to spur new policy bans on assault weapons and large-capacity automatic weapon magazines.  (At least lots of Mississippians think so, based on news reports that gun and ammo sales have spiked dramatically in the aftermath of Newton.)

But we shouldn’t forget that lethal violence is an everyday matter in America.  Guns kill 85 people per day on average.  Violence is the second leading cause of death for young Americans aged 10-24.  Nearly 2,000 young people, moreover, are treated for physical assault-related injuries in hospital emergency rooms every day.  Anything responsible for that much damage to the health and well-being of the population deserves to be designated a major public health threat, and demands a major response.

We need more than a new law here and there.  We need a comprehensive review of factors contributing to the continuous danger, followed by serious and systematic reform.  Every feature of guns – from access to safety features – needs to be looked at, especially in urban areas.  Availability of mental health services (at present a national disgrace) needs to be looked at.  The saturation of our “entertainment” culture with violence and death needs to be looked at.  Promising approaches to community violence prevention, such as the CITI project in Chicago (more about this in a later blog), need to be examined and promoted.

We need nothing short of a sustained commitment to reform and to reverse the continuous tide of daily, “ordinary,” violence in our nation.  The public’s health demands it.  The victims of the Newton massacre, and every other mass killing before it, deserve nothing less.

Dr. Michael Forster
Dr. Michael Forster

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