Will the surgeon general declaring gun violence a public health emergency help prevent deaths?

The surgeon general declared this Tuesday that gun violence is a public health crisis due to the rapidly increasing number of deaths and injuries from firearms in the United States.

The warning from Vivek Murthy, the country’s top doctor, came after another weekend of mass shootings with dozens of victims.

“People want to be able to walk through their neighborhoods and be safe,” Murthy told news agency in a telephone interview. “America should be a place where we can all go to school, to work, to the grocery store, to our place of worship, without having to worry that it will put our lives at risk,” she added.

To reduce deaths, Murthy calls for a ban on automatic rifles; universal background checks for gun purchases be introduced; the industry is regulated; laws are approved that restrict their use in public spaces; and penalize those who do not store their weapons safely.

None of these suggestions can be implemented nationwide without legislation passed by Congress, which is often averse to gun control measures. However, some state legislatures have enacted or could consider some of the surgeon general’s proposals.

Murthy said there is a “broad consensus” that gun violence is a problem, citing a survey last year that found most Americans worry at least sometimes that a loved one could be hurt by a gun. of fire. More than 48,000 Americans died in 2022 from gunshot wounds.

Doctors were quick to praise Murthy’s recommendation. The American Academy of Family Physicians, for example, has considered gun violence a public health epidemic for more than a decade.

“Family physicians have long understood, and have seen firsthand, the devastating impact that gun violence has on our patients and the communities we serve,” its president, Steven Furr, said in a statement. .

Murthy’s warning, however, promises to be controversial among the gun lobby and will undoubtedly outrage Republican lawmakers, most of whom in the Senate opposed his confirmation—twice—for his statements about armed violence.

The National Rifle Association was quick to rebuke Murthy’s advice. “This is an extension of the (Joe) Biden Administration’s war against law-abiding gun owners,” said its president, Randy Kozuch, on the social network X.

It was the NRA, and Republicans who enjoy support from the powerful gun lobby, who nearly derailed Murthy’s confirmation as surgeon general a decade ago. Murthy became more reserved on the issue of gun violence after his past statements nearly cost him his job. He ended by promising the Senate that he “had no intention of using my position as surgeon general as a bully pulpit on gun control.”

The then president, Donald Trump, removed Murthy in 2017, but Biden nominated him again for the position in 2021.

Murthy has posted warnings about worrying health trends in American life, such as loneliness and social media use. In an op-ed published this month in The New York Times, he claimed that social media has contributed to a mental health crisis among the nation’s youth and called on Congress to require warning labels on similar social media platforms. to those of the cigarette boxes.

But he has also faced growing pressure from some doctors and Democratic advocacy groups to speak out more clearly. A group of four former surgeons general asked the Biden Administration in 2022 to prepare a report on the problem.

“It’s time we take this issue out of politics and into public health, like we did with smoking more than half a century ago,” Murthy told .

It was a 1964 report by the surgeon general that raised awareness of the dangers of smoking and is largely credited with reducing tobacco consumption and precipitating regulation of the industry.

Murthy now hopes that his advice on guns will also change the debate on this issue. He has been encouraged by some progress in Congress, such as the 2022 passage of the bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which improves background checks for firearms.

A White House report obtained by says more extensive background checks have prevented about 800 firearms sales to those under 21. Additionally, more than 500 people, including some linked to transnational cartels and organized crime networks, have been charged with arms trafficking and other crimes under landmark gun safety legislation.

Children and young people, in particular, suffer from gun violence, Murthy points out in his report titled Firearm Violence: A Public Health Crisis in America. Suicide rates by firearm have increased almost 70% among children between 10 and 14 years old. Children are much more likely to die from gunshot wounds than those in other countries, according to the study.

Even when children are not direct victims of a shooting, they can suffer the mental health consequences of gun violence, according to the report. About half of American teenagers fear a school shooting. And in areas that have been exposed to a fatal school shooting, youth use of antidepressants has skyrocketed by more than 20%.

In addition to new regulations, Murthy calls for increased research on gun violence and for the health system to promote and educate patients about gun safety and proper storage during checkups.