The epidemic of gun violence is about more than guns. This is a point made clear in the address that Dayton physician Dr. Matthew Noordsij-Jones delivered to the thousands in attendance at the March For Our Lives gathering in Dayton, Ohio in March of 2018. We are sharing some of the remarks made in his address, as our campaign believes these kinds of perspectives are essential for understanding the broader scope of this issue, of its causes, and just as importantly if not more so, its effects upon the people of our communities. This is an issue which has no easy, singular answers. But that should not prevent us from looking at the full scope of the problem as honestly and soberly as possible, and to no longer allow a few powerful special interests from preventing us from formulating solutions to this crisis. Doing nothing on this issue, one that is literally a matter of life and death for tens of thousands of Americans each year, is no longer an option.
As a primary care doctor in Dayton I see the daily toll that gun violence takes on our citizens both young and old. I have a middle age patient who is in what should be the prime of his life but can barely leave his house due to the PTSD he confronts every day from being shot and losing multiple fingers and much of the use of both of his hands. I see the families that are left behind from tragic loss of life from gun related suicides. As a father I see the stress that comes with knowing that my children must participate in active shooter drills. Just a week ago my preschool age daughter had to still as quietly as preschoolers can under the sink in their classroom because someone might bring a gun to their school. Don’t let people tell you that nothing can be done because we know that it can and anything else, as it was so eloquently put, is BS.
There are many things that we know about gun violence. On average 35,000 people die in the US every year due to gun violence. That is around 100 people every day. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics found that guns are now the third leading cause of death among children. This is about the same number of people that die from car accidents. No one says that nothing can be done about car accidents. In fact, we do research into deaths from car accidents and we have dramatically decreased the number of deaths. The CDC used to fund research into gun violence just as it funds road safety. Gun violence is, after all, a serious health and a safety threat. That is until one of its studies, published in 1993, found that guns in homes were associated with higher risk of homicide. Enter the NRA lobbying efforts that pushed for the Dickey amendment ending any CDC or NIH led gun violence research and lowering the CDC’s budget to limit this type of research. While there are still independent researchers trying to study gun violence across the United States their funding is limited and firearm injury research through the CDC and NIH screeched to a halt. It’s been 22 years. Along with an increase in federal gun violence research funding, the Dickey amendment needs to go. Even Representative Jay Dickey the lifetime NRA member who proposed the amendment came around to support gun violence research in an op-ed that was published in 2012 after the Aurora shooting. And don’t tell me that we cannot afford this research. In 2014, two people died in the United States from the Ebola virus and Congress appropriated $1.7 billion to study the threat. Just this year [there have been already] over 2,000 people who have been killed by guns in America. Which is the bigger health threat?
I would like to touch on mental illness as this can become scapegoat for much of the violence that has been done but it is an area in which we as a society need to do better. Violence has very complicated roots and mental illness alone is rarely the sole cause. Only 4% of gun violence in the United States is attributable to mental illness and people with serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence. That said suicide causes over half of the gun deaths in our country every year. Evidence shows that because of the lethality of guns, 90% of firearm suicide attempts result in death. Those with mental illness make up the grand majority of suicides. We need better mental health treatment in this country.
There are other behaviors that do indicate an elevated risk of violence against others. Past violent behavior is the best predictor of future violence, regardless of a diagnosis of mental illness. Domestic violence, substance abuse, alcohol abuse, and illegal use of controlled substances also increase the risk of violence. One concrete action that we can take to decrease firearm deaths is the Extreme Risk Protection Order also known as the gun violence restraining order. This has already been done successfully in five states….
To borrow the eloquent writing of a dear friend of mine Dr. Mona Mangat. “Do not look away and do not lose hope. Look at the photos of every victim of every school shooting. Read their heart-wrenching stories. Feel the pain and agony of these parents and communities. Weep for them and then stand in solidarity with the children across America fighting to make America safer. This time can be different.”
We must insist on allowing and fully funding research on gun violence by the CDC and NIH because science must inform our public policy decisions. We must vote for legislators who are willing to put the lives of our children above their gun lobby contributions. We must vote for legislators who will support common sense gun legislation….We must vote for legislators who will increase access to health care including mental health care for every single American. We must hold our elected officials accountable. We owe this to our children.
Dr. Matthew Noordsij-Jones, “NJ”, is a local primary care physician and activist working at a community health center in north Dayton. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.