Public Health Keynote: 91 deaths a day, 33,000 a year

The numbers represent a “true epidemic,” said Georges Benjamin, M.D., as he tallied the number of deaths per day and the number of deaths per year from gun violence in the United States in delivering the keynote address April 5 at the 12th Annual Public Health Leadership Forum, Firearm Violence: Policy, Prevention and Public Health.  The forum was attended by approximately 120 physicians, health care leaders and public health and government officials.

The numbers represent a public health crisis, and the grim statistics prove the point: on an average day, 91 Americans are killed by guns, with more than 33,000 dying every year.  In an average month, 51 women are shot to death by their intimate partners, and seven children and teens each day are killed by guns.

Dr. Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association, had three objectives in his keynote: (1) to define the societal toll of firearm injury; (2) to articulate a public health approach to reducing injury and death from firearm violence; and (3) to offer a broad approach to reducing firearm-related injuries and deaths.

“Guns are part of our culture,” said Dr. Benjamin, noting that the U.S. has more guns than people, “and we have the fundamental belief that firearms protect us.” Yet, he said, far too often the result is death and injury. Mass shootings, like the one at Sandy Hook, Connecticut, remain a persistent issue, with the U.S. experiencing more days with mass shootings than without.

“The protective safety of guns is overestimated,” said Dr. Benjamin. “In homes with firearms, homicide is three times more likely and suicide is five times more likely.”

Dr. Benjamin argued that through technology and education we can make guns safer and make people safer with their guns.  And it is an issue, he says, that physicians should embrace.  “Why should physicians care about this?  If it hurts people, if it kills people,” he said, “physicians should care.”

— Richard P. Gulla

Dr. Benjamin’s slide presentation, A Public Health Approach to Reducing Firearm Injury, may be viewed here.

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