There are many practical ways to reduce gun deaths

June 1, 2023 – No single strategy is likely to significantly reduce gun deaths in the U.S.—but lots of strategies working together could help, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s David Hemenway.

In a May 24 interview in Current Affairs, Hemenway, professor of health policy and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, discussed the scope of America’s gun violence epidemic and why he advocates for a public health approach to addressing the problem.

Hemenway noted that roughly 300 people in the U.S. are shot every day, with likely 110 to 120 dying. Among the gun deaths, 60% are suicides. “We are a complete outlier [compared with other high-income countries] in terms of violent death by guns,” he said.

The public health approach to the problem of gun violence “asks everybody to get involved and first admit that we have an enormous problem, and then try to get everybody to work together to solve that problem,” Hemenway explained. “It’s a harm reduction approach. If I had one sentence to try to describe the approach, I would say, ‘Let’s make it really difficult to get injured, shot, or killed, and make it really easy to be safe.’”

Hemenway listed numerous steps that could reduce gun-related harms, including:

  • Universal background checks
  • Gun licensing
  • Gun registration
  • Ballistic fingerprinting on guns (in which guns leave unique markings on the ammunition they fire, to help police solve gun crimes)
  • Better safeties on gun magazines
  • “Smart guns” (which can only be used by the official user)
  • Improved gun safety trainings
  • A government agency focused on reducing firearm deaths and injuries
  • More gun data and gun research

Said Hemenway, “It’s pretty clear in the United States that we’re going to have plenty of guns, and so then the question is: how can we learn to live with the guns right now without dying from them?”

Listen to or read the Current Affairs interview with David Hemenway: A Public Health Expert Explains How We Can Actually Reduce Gun Deaths

Learn more

Harvard Chan School experts shed light on link between guns and suicides, gun injuries (Harvard Chan School news)

Podcast addresses guns and public health in America (Harvard Chan School news)