Gun researchers see a public health emergency in Orlando mass shooting. Here's why.

June 14, 2016 by Sandro Galea And Ziming Xuan, Boston University, The Conversation

Editor's note: We turned to two public health researchers on gun violence to help us understand the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Florida. Sandro Galea is the dean of Boston University's School of Public Health. Ziming Xuan is an assistant professor at the school who recently led a study of state gun laws and youth gun-carrying in the United States. We originally spoke to the researchers in the wake of the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon in October 2015.

Q: How common are mass shootings in the U.S.? Do you consider gun violence a public health issue?

Sandro Galea: Mass shootings have been occurring with regularity in the U.S. for years now, but they are far from the only way people are affected by gun violence in this country. There were 64 school shootings in America in 2015. More than 32,000 people die from firearms every year, as many as die from car accidents. This is clearly a public health issue, and one with a solution – the control of widespread gun availability. This approach has been shown to work in countries like Australia.

Ziming Xuan: How common are mass shootings? One indication is that after the Umpqua shooting last October, President Obama spoke about the "routine" nature of mass shootings in our country.

We've regularly heard from the president on the issue. After the Kansas mass shooting in February 2016, Obama also urged the country not to become numb to gun violence. And just this weekend, he said: "to actively do nothing is a decision as well."

While mass shootings galvanize the nation's attention, a sad truth is that mass shootings represent a very small proportion of total firearm homicides in U.S. In 2012, fewer than one percent of firearm homicide victims were killed in mass shootings, defined by the FBI as a shooting with four or more victims. Gun violence is often among the leading causes of death (homicides and suicides) and nonfatal injuries among youth, and affects families and communities across the U.S.

Gun violence has created a major and unique problem for the U.S., compared to other developed countries. In order to protect youth, the governments and adults in other developed countries such as France have made it difficult for youth to access handguns. However, a recent study showed that about a quarter of U.S. adolescents reported they had easy access to a gun in their home. Meanwhile, the majority of young respondents told researchers they wished to live in a society where it is impossible for teens to obtain guns.

Q: What else should people know to understand gun violence in the U.S.?

Sandro Galea: Firearm deaths are driven principally by availability of firearms. While frequently after these events we link them to mental illness, the evidence is very clear that this is a negligible part of the problem. People with mental illness are much more likely to be victims than perpetrators of firearm violence.

Ziming Xuan: Considering the magnitude of the gun violence problem in the U.S., gun-related research is limited in part because there is very limited funding from the federal government to advance our understanding about the nature and mechanism of or to evaluate and identify effective prevention strategies.

Parents definitely need to teach their children to be responsible with risky and lethal products such as alcohol, guns, cars and so on. However, parents sometimes do not fully understand child and youth development, impulsiveness or curiosity.

A recent study shows that what parents report about their children's access to guns often contradicts children's reports. The kids reveal that they know the location of guns in the house and have handled the gun, while parents reported they did not. For injury prevention, it is far more effective and long-lasting to change the environment by changing modifiable policies and norms than to try to change the way children behave.

Q: Compared to other states, Florida puts few restrictions on gun ownership. Was this a factor in the shooting in Orlando?

Ziming Xuan: Florida is ranked 25th in terms of gun law environment score, according to the state scorecard provided annually by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

States with more restrictive gun laws tend to have lower level of gun ownership, lower gun-related nonfatal injuries and lower gun-related fatalities including homicide and suicide. States that require background checks for all handgun sales had fewer mass shootings as compared to states without background checks requirement.

Many factors contributed to the shooting in Orlando, but the less restrictive state gun laws in Florida made it easy for the shooter to get an assault-style weapon.

Q: Oregon – where a mass shooting took place in October 2015 – is one of nine states that allow guns on college campuses. What impact will 'campus carry' laws have on gun violence?

Sandro Galea: Wider availability of firearms is associated with more firearm-related injury. Allowing guns on campus is the wrong strategy for reducing firearm injury.

Ziming Xuan: Published research has shown that states with weak laws and more guns are associated with more gun violence in the forms of suicide, homicides and other injuries and accidents.

Explore further: Do gun restrictions help reduce gun deaths?

Related Stories

Do gun restrictions help reduce gun deaths?

March 8, 2016
A study by researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health looked at the associations between firearm-related laws and firearm homicides, suicides, and unintentional injuries and deaths. The paper is ...

Reverse US funding freeze on research into gun violence, say experts

February 10, 2016
A ban on federal funding of research into gun violence initiated by Congress in 1997 must be overturned to improve understanding of gun use and how best to control it, argue experts in The BMJ today.

Study examines gun control policies and effect on youth gun carrying

September 21, 2015
A more restrictive gun law environment was associated with a reduced likelihood of youth carrying guns, according to an article published online by JAMA Pediatrics.

Study of 81,000 adults examines mental illness, gun violence and suicide

June 6, 2016
People with serious mental illnesses who use guns to commit suicide are often legally eligible to purchase guns, despite having a past record of an involuntary mental health examination and brief hospitalization, according ...

Epidemiologic Reviews devotes special issue to research on gun violence

February 22, 2016
The journal Epidemiologic Reviews, a leading review journal in public health, today released a special issue of the journal focused entirely on gun violence prevention and policy research. Many of the nation's top academics ...

Study identifies three state laws that 'substantially reduce' gun deaths

March 10, 2016
Gun-related deaths in the U.S. could be reduced by more than 80 percent if three laws implemented in some states were extended nationally, an analysis led by Boston University researchers shows. In a study published in The ...

Recommended for you

Male contraceptive compound stops sperm without affecting hormones

April 20, 2018
A new study published today in the journal PLOS ONE details how a compound called EP055 binds to sperm proteins to significantly slow the overall mobility of the sperm without affecting hormones, making EP055 a potential ...

New research suggests possible link between sudden infant death syndrome and air pollution

April 20, 2018
A study led by the University of Birmingham suggests a possible association between exposure to certain pollutants and an increased risk of so-called 'cot death'.

A dose of empathy may support patients in pain

April 20, 2018
Research published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine suggests that empathic, positive messages from doctors may be of small benefit to patients suffering from pain, and improve their satisfaction about the care ...

For heavy lifting, use exoskeletons with caution

April 20, 2018
You can wear an exoskeleton, but it won't turn you into a superhero.

New device to help patients with rare disease access life-saving treatment

April 19, 2018
Patients with a rare medical condition can receive life-saving treatment at the touch of a button thanks to a new device developed by scientists.

Low-cost anti-hookworm drug boosts female farmers' physical fitness

April 19, 2018
Impoverished female farm workers infected with intestinal parasites known as hookworms saw significant improvements in physical fitness when they were treated with a low-cost deworming drug. The benefits were seen even in ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jun 15, 2016
Medical professionals needlessly slaughter 200 thousand Americans every year, so naturally they are going to want to talk about something else, even if they have to urge us to be more like Australia which is led by the same monarchy we had to fight the last time in order to have the freedom to defend ourselves. In the British empire, self-defense is unlawful. If a criminal breaks into your home you must flee your home and you are held liable for any harm that comes to the intruder. Only one special group of people benefits from the castle doctrine in a monarchy and that's the one family that lives in the castle.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.