Living more safely with guns

There are ways to bring together both sides of the nation’s gun debate to address the public health threat of firearm violence in the United States, which claims an estimated 33,000 lives annually and puts the nation at the top of the list of gun deaths in developed nations, David Hemenway, professor of health policy and director of the Harvard Injury Control Center at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said on NPR’s On Point on August 31, 2015.

“If we are going to decide to stay a country with lots and lots of guns, we have to learn how to live better with these guns,” said Hemenway, one of several experts interviewed about the American gun culture in the wake of the Virginia TV journalists’ shootings on August 27, 2015. Hemenway is the author of “While We Were Sleeping” and “Private Guns, Public Health.”

Recognizing how safety improvements have been made over the years in automobile design and other areas can provide guidance for addressing gun violence, Hemenway noted. The first step is that “everybody must agree guns are a big problem,” he said. Then instead of pointing fingers, the parties must ask what can be done and who can help.

For instance, he said, gun shop owners can be trained to identify shoppers who might want to purchase a gun for suicide, and to recognize when a customer may be buying a gun for others who can’t pass a background check. Firearms training can be expanded to include more information about suicide awareness and topics like how to deal with disputes.

“Since we’re going to have lots of guns, lots of people can help,” Hemenway said. “It’s a lot about changing social norms as well as changing laws.”

Listen to the On Point interview: Looking Past A Shooting At American Gun Culture (Hemenway’s interview starts at about 14 minutes.)

Learn more

The public health case for gun control

Gun Violence: A Public Health Crisis (The Forum at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)