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Public Health Action, Not Thoughts and Prayers

Authored by Austin Grattan

Art by Ngoc Truong


Alyssa Alhadeff, Scott Beigel, Martin Duque, Nicholas Dworet, Aaron Feis, Jamie Guttenberg, Chris Hixon, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup, Peter Wang [1].


Most members of Gen Z do  not know any of these names of the students or staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL whowere brutally murdered in their school. And yet, all of Gen Z was profoundly impacted. 


The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting was one of the deadliest, most reported on school shootings in American history and Gen Z’s young life, inspiring one of the largest youth-led protests in American history. March For Our Lives was born from teen survivors of this deadly shooting, leading well over 500,000 individuals from across the country to protest for gun reform in our nation’s capital [2]. Thousands of protests at highschools, town halls and state capitals emerged on the one month anniversary of the shooting, and on the 19th anniverserary of the Columbine High School shooting [2].


Following the shooting, a wave of new gun control reform bills swept across state governments. In Florida, a bill was proposed to ban high capacity magazines and assault rifles, like the AR-15 style rifle used in the Parkland shooting. The Florida state goverment refused to hold hearings for the bill, and shortly after, pushed a bill through declaring pornography a public health risk in the state of Florida. This action serves as a harrowing ode to the twisted health priorities of many American lawmakers [3]. 


Our health priorities need to be re-evaluated. In this instance, pornography gets the attention of Florida lawmakers while meaningful and effective gun reform gets pushed to the sidelines. 


In 1996, a bill called the Dickey Amendment was passed, prohibiting federal dollars to fund gun control advocacy [4]. At that time, public health research was being published regarding the risks associated with  having guns in the home on suicide and homocide rates, and prominent figures in the Center for Disease Control started to reference empirical data in order to suggest than gun ownership needed to be re-evaluated in America becuase of it’s potentially deadly effetcs. This was seen by many as using federal money for “gun reform advocacy,” and led to a halt of federally funded gun violence research, which is the main reason that there is so little gun violence policy action today and why the federal government will not declare gun violence a public health crisis [5].


Despite the federal government's inaction on this issue, stakeholder organizations such as the American Public Health Association and the American Medical Association have described gun violence as a public health issue [4]. Specifically for children, why should gun reform be passed to protect American youth health?


Gun violence against children is on the rise. In 2018, there were 803 shootings involving children. In 2020 there were 1,076 [6]. The rising prevalence of this issue is a significant child mortality concern, but the negative health effects of shootings involving children extend beyond immediate death. 


In March of 2019, two teenage surviors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting commited suicide, within less than 10 days of each other [7]. For child survivors of mass shootings, it is estimated that between 30-40% of them will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [7]. Survivors are also know to sturggle with surviror’s guilt, behaviroal regression, increased agression, sleeping issues, acute stress disorder, and even suicidal ideation. 


For youths not directly affected by shootings, increased levels of stress and worry can also result in the period after a high-profile shooting. For example, after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, there was a 30% increase in the proportion of students not involved in the Columbine shooting that did not feel safe in school [7]. 


All evidence points towards gun violence being a public health issue, but outdated laws have upheald the rights of gunowners over the health of children. Lawmakers should allow empirical evidence to fund policies to increase public health. In the United States, they have failed on these fronts. Public health action to end gun violence must be prioritized. 


To get involved please register to vote and visit https://www.apha.org/topics-and-issues/gun-violence to donate to the American Public Health Association in their public health approach towards gun violence and gun control reform policies.


References

[1] NBC 6 South Florida. (2023, February 22). Remembering the 17 parkland victims lost to the school shooting. https://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/reflection-remembering-the-17-parkland-victims/2690110/

[2] Kirby, J. (2018, March 19). The march for our lives, explained. Vox. https://www.vox.com/2018/3/19/17139654/march-for-our-lives-dc-march-24-protest 

[3] Meixler, E. (2018, February 21). Florida House declares pornography a public health risk. Time. https://time.com/5167792/florida-house-pornography-health-risk/ 

[4] Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. (2023b, July 31). Gun violence as a public health issue. https://publichealth.tulane.edu/blog/gun-violence-as-a-public-health-issue/

[5] Zhang, S. (2022, May 25). Why can’t the U.S. treat gun violence as a public-health problem? The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/02/gun-violence-public-health/553430/ 

[6] Donnelly, M. R., Grigorian, A., Swentek, L., Arora, J., Kuza, C. M., Inaba, K., Kim, D., Lekawa, M., & Nahmias, J. (2021). Firearm Violence Against Children in the United States: Trends in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic. Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, 92(1), 65–68. https://doi.org/10.1097/ta.0000000000003347

[7] Cimolai, V., Schmitz, J., & Sood, A. B. (2021). Effects of mass shootings on the mental health of children and adolescents. Current Psychiatry Reports, 23(3). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-021-01222-2

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