Violence may be the most pressing domestic issue facing America today. But many Americans are stumped about how to tackle this immense problem. Of course, we're all against violence. Could anyone feel otherwise?
But the general agreement ends there. Some believe the answer is to get guns out of the hands of the populace. Others don't believe guns are the problem, feeling that harsh penalties for using weapons in the commission of crimes are the way to address the issue.
Despite the divisions, this week's cover story shows that violence is becoming an urgent health concern. A primary reason is that an increasing number of those who are being injured by guns are children. In 1990, 2,874 children and teen-agers were killed with guns, 1,476 committed suicide with guns and 541 died in unintentional shootings, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Experience in our own communities indicates these numbers are growing dramatically.
And secondly, the cost of dealing with violence is being borne by healthcare providers. In a study released last month by the University of California in San Francisco, the cost of firearms-related injuries in the United States was estimated to exceed $20 billion a year, including $1.4 billion in medical costs.
Firearm injuries are second only to motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death by injury, said the report, which appears in the winter issue of the health policy journal Health Affairs.
Many physicians and healthcare administrators are attempting to tackle the gun-violence issue head on. They're organizing gun buy-back programs and launching gun-injury prevention efforts. They see their role as an effort to provide a community benefit that might not exist without their intervention.
Such efforts may be controversial in some communities, but with proper planning and involvement of other community leaders, the results should more than outweigh the effort. After all, what role could be more appropriate for a healthcare organization than saving lives?