August 29, 2023 – Since federal policy was changed in 2019 to allow funding for gun violence research, multiple databases have been established to track violent deaths across the U.S. The data provide key information for successfully implementing a public health approach to prevent gun violence, according to David Hemenway, professor of health policy at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
In an August 18 article in Undark, Hemenway explained that compared to other high-income countries, the U.S. has increased rates of gun violence and deaths because of the greater number of guns—particularly handguns and military weapons—and weaker gun laws. He said that rather than looking for who to fault, policies should use a public health lens to address the issue.
“The public health approach is about prevention. It’s not about individuals; it’s about the population,” he said. “Let’s make it really difficult to get injured, or to injure someone, and let’s make it really easy to be safe.”
According to Hemenway, successful prevention efforts have included working with women’s groups to reduce straw purchasing—for example, buying guns for boyfriends who would not pass a background check—and encouraging doctors to have direct conversations with people at risk for suicide about removing guns from their homes. He emphasized that collecting comprehensive data about violent deaths is necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of different approaches.
“We’re starting to understand more and more about what is happening, what might work, what might not work. And then we try things; you’re going to be able to tell, did this really work or didn’t this work? So having good data really matters,” Hemenway said.
Read the Undark article: Interview: Treating Gun Violence as a Public Health Crisis