America’s surgeon general names gun crime a public health emergency

Gun violence has become a public health disaster in the United States, according to the surgeon general on Tuesday. This is because the number of injuries and deaths caused by guns is rising so quickly.

The warning from the country’s top doctor, Dr. Vivek Murthy, came at a time when mass killings killed or hurt dozens of people in the U.S. over the summer weekend.

Murthy told The Associated Press over the phone, “People want to be able to walk through their neighborhoods and feel safe.” “America should be a place where everyone can go to school, work, the store, or church without fear of putting their life in danger.”

Murthy wants the U.S. to ban automatic rifles, make it so that everyone who wants to buy a gun has to go through a background check, control the gun industry, pass laws that limit their use in public places, and punish people who don’t store their guns safely.

None of those ideas can be put into action across the country until Congress passes laws. Congress usually fights gun control measures. However, some state governments have already passed or may pass some of the surgeon general’s suggestions.

A poll from last year found that most Americans worry at least some of the time that a loved one might be hurt by a gun. Surgeon General Murthy said that there is “broad agreement” that gun crime is a problem. In 2022, more than 48,000 Americans were hurt by guns and died.

Doctors quickly gave Murthy’s advice high marks. For more than ten years, the American Academy of Family Physicians has called gun crime a public health epidemic.

Family doctors have known for a long time and seen for themselves how terrible gun violence is for our patients and the towns we serve, said Steven Furr, president of the group.

But Murthy’s advice is likely to be controversial with the gun lobby, and it will definitely anger Republican lawmakers, since most of them voted against his confirmation twice because of what he said about gun violence.

The National Rifle Association quickly disagreed with Murthy’s advice.

“This is more of the Biden Administration’s war on law-abiding gun owners,” the group’s president, Randy Kozuch, said in a statement on X.

It was the NRA and Republicans who back the strong gun lobby that almost stopped Murthy from becoming surgeon general ten years ago. After saying things in the past that almost cost him his job, Murthy spoke less about gun crime. He finally told the Senate, “I do not intend to use my office as surgeon general as a bully pulpit on gun control.”

In 2017, President Donald Trump fired Murthy, but in 2021, President Joe Biden put him forward again for the job.

Murthy has written about worrying health trends in American life, such as social media use and loneliness. This month, he wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times in which he said that social media has made the mental health problem among young people in the country worse. He also asked Congress to require warning labels on social media sites like the ones on cigarette boxes.

But some doctors and Democratic groups have been putting more and more pressure on him to speak out more. When Biden took office in 2022, four past surgeon generals asked him to write a report about the problem.

“This issue should no longer be a political issue; it should be a public health issue,” Murthy told the AP. “We did this with smoking more than fifty years ago.”

A report from the surgeon general in 1964 that made people more aware of the dangers of smoking is largely responsible for lowering tobacco use and leading to rules for the business.

Now, Murthy hopes that his advice on guns will change the way people talk about this problem as well. Some changes in Congress have made him feel better, like when the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was passed in 2022 and made background checks for guns stronger.

The Associated Press got a report from the White House that says more thorough background checks have stopped about 800 sales of guns to people younger than 21. Also, under the landmark gun safety law, more than 500 people have been charged with gun trafficking and other crimes. Some of them are connected to transnational drug gangs and organized crime rings.

Murthy says in his report called “Firearm Violence: A Public Health Crisis in America” that gun crime hurts children and younger Americans the most. Deaths by gun have gone up by almost 70% among kids and teens ages 10 to 14. The study he put together shows that children in the U.S. are much more likely to die from gunshot wounds than children in other countries.

The head of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Benjamin Hoffman, said that it has become common for pediatricians to talk to families about keeping guns out of reach of their children during well visits. It stops a lot of gun deaths and injuries, like suicides and accidents, when kids can’t get their hands on a gun.

“Giving a child who is having a mental health crisis access to a gun is a surefire way to make the worst things happen,” Hoffman said.

The study says that kids may have mental health problems after being around guns, even if they are not directly hurt by them. About half of American kids are scared of being shot at school. And the number of young people taking antidepressants goes up by more than 20% in places where there has been a school killing.

Murthy also wants more study to be done on gun violence and for the health system to teach patients about gun safety and how to store guns properly during checkups.

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