Public Health Experts Targeting Gun Violence as Public Health Issue

Dr. Stephen W. Hargarten poses for a photo in a trauma room at Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin's emergency department in Milwaukee. (Photo: AP)

(The Blaze/AP) — Is a gun like a virus, tobacco or alcohol?  According to “public health experts,” who in the wake of recent mass shootings are calling for a fresh look at gun violence as a “social disease,” it is.

What we need, they say, is a “public health approach” to the problem.

Dr. Garen Wintemute of University of California, Davis claims it is no longer enough to tackle gun violence by focusing solely on the people doing the shooting.  Dr. Stephen Hargarten, who treated victims of the Sikh temple shootings at the emergency department he heads in Milwaukee, feels the same way.

“What I’m struggling with is, is this the new social norm?” he asked, before asserting: “This is what we’re going to have to live with if we have more personal access to firearms.”

He continued: “We have a public health issue to discuss. Do we wait for the next outbreak or is there something we can do to prevent it?”

About 260 million to 300 million firearms are owned by civilians in the United States; about one-third of American homes have one.  Last year, 55 percent of Americans said gun laws should either remain the same or become more lenient.

Public Health Experts Targeting Gun Violence as Public Health Issue

Certain elements of the “public health approach” to gun control include:

-”Host” factors: What makes someone more likely to shoot, or someone more likely to be a victim. One recent study found firearm owners are more likely than those with no firearms at home to binge drink or drink and drive, the AP reports.

-Disease patterns, observing how a problem spreads. Gun ownership – a precursor to gun violence – can spread “much like an infectious disease circulates,” said Daniel Webster, a health policy expert and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore.

“There’s sort of a contagion phenomenon” after a shooting, where people feel they need to have a gun for protection or retaliation, he said.

If gun control is now part of “public health,” will it become the responsibility of the government to monitor the issue like any other “infectious disease”?

One commenter wrote that he would prefer if the “experts” stuck to medicine, rather than trying to “socially engineer” our way to a healthier society.

Associated Press writer Pete Yost in Washington contributed to this report.