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Gun violence declared public health crisis by U.S. Surgeon General

CDC: Gun violence is leading cause of death for Americans ages 1 to 19.
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Posted at 7:02 PM, Jun 25, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS — United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy declared gun violence an American public health crisis on Tuesday.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gun violence is the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 1 and 19. More than 4,600 Americans in that age range died of gun violence in 2022.

"I know a parent's worst nightmare is to lose a child and to feel like you can't protect your child from harm," Murthy said in his announcement. "Moms and dads. Sons and daughters. All of whom were robbed of their physical and mental health by senseless acts of violence."

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Dee Ross of Indianapolis-based community center and anti-violence organization The Ross Foundation said gun violence was a mental health crisis long before Murthy's declaration.

"This is something that needed to be tackled yesterday," Ross said. "In order to tackle violence in our communities, we need to tackle mental health."

Ross said he lost several friends to gun violence growing up on Indianapolis' east side. He believes gun violence leaves a lasting impact on victims and loved ones that could become deadly if not addressed.

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"People are wanting revenge or retaliation because it's easy to lose yourself when you're dealing with that significant amount of pain," Ross said. "When you put a community in survival mode, what do you expect to happen?"

According to CDC statistics cited by Murthy, 54% of Americans experienced an incident with firearms or know a family member who has. Additionally, 60% of Americans worry that they or a loved one will become a victim of gun violence.

Indiana University public health professor Jon Macy has researched the intersection of guns and public health for six years. He previously researched the affects of smoking, and said the two issues have significant parallels.

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"Hopefully this gets policy makers' attention because we've done it before," Macy said. "After the surgeon general came out with the report that smoking is a public health problem, that led to a lot of research that led to solutions. Lo and behold, cigarette smoking rates have decreased dramatically."

He hopes Murthy's declaration will inspire researchers and average Americans to move together urgently towards a solution to gun violence.

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"We're doing a disservice to our kids," Macy said. "If gun violence is the leading cause of death, then what are the grown ups doing? So much of it is preventable and it does not have to be this way."

While researchers try to find solutions, Ross hopes Murthy's declaration will allow people affected by gun violence to open up about their pain right now.

"It's okay to cry. It's okay to be angry," Ross said. "It's okay to say you want to give up at times."