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At Aspen conference, a call to prioritize stopping gun violence

Sandhya Raman, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

ASPEN, Colo. — Leading experts on the gun violence crisis called for expanding data collection, increasing federal research funding and prioritizing community building as critical next steps to stem firearm deaths and improve public health.

Gregory Jackson, deputy director of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, speaking at Aspen Ideas: Health on Friday, said firearm violence is the No. 1 cause of death among youth and has been the leading cause among black youth since 2006.

But, he said, the U.S. is behind on various mitigation measures that reduce the impacts to public health.

“I want to emphasize this is the least researched type of death in the top 30,” said Jackson, who added that more research has been done on youth sepsis. “It’s a tragedy how little we know. But even with the little bit we do know, we’re starting to see real results when we start investing in strategies.”

“Even if you look at the dollars per death in America, it’s embarrassing how little we’re pouring into this versus cancer and all these other issues,” said Jackson, who said ensuring safe gun storage and implementing community violence intervention programs are the two biggest steps to reduce youth violence.

Jackson, Megan Ranney, dean of the Yale School of Public Health, and Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, a New York health care provider, praised how aspects of the bipartisan 2022 gun safety and mental health law have allowed researchers to unlock an initial slate of public health tools. But Ranney said data collection efforts are currently “just scratching the surface.”

“We can measure until the cows come home but that doesn’t change patterns of injury and death, but if we don’t have the data, then how can we know whether what we’re doing is working?” said Ranney.

“Currently, we don’t even know how many people have been injured by firearms, at least from the government side,” said Jackson.

Funding

Congress included explicit funding through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health to research gun violence in its fiscal 2020 spending law, after more than 20 years of excluding this type of funding.

Ranney said that while the federal government has spent $25 million to be split between the agencies since then, that figure has been bolstered by the involvement from universities, philanthropists and health care systems. She called for the U.S. surgeon general to issue a report on firearm violence to bring attention to the issue in line with other major health problems.

 

Dowling said the federal government also needs to more broadly invest in reducing gun-related suicides. He praised money provided through the 2022 law but said the overall funding stream for mental health remains “really, really, very minimalistic.” But he also cautioned against categorizing all gun violence under the mental health umbrella.

Supreme Court ruling

The Friday panel occurred on the same day that two people were killed and a number of others wounded in a mass shooting outside of a grocery store in Fordyce, Ark., according to news reports.

Also on Friday, the Supreme Court overwhelmingly upheld a law in United States v. Rahimi that prevents people with domestic violence-related restraining orders from having guns.

Ranney said that domestic violence-related homicide is the leading cause of homicide death for women, and that the majority of those deaths are the result of firearms. Domestic violence is also linked to other forms of gun-related deaths such as suicide and mass shootings.

“I’m so thrilled that the Supreme Court upheld the current regulations allowing removal of firearms for folks that are under arrest for domestic violence restraining order,” she said.

Jackson also called the decision “huge,” emphasizing the link between access to firearms and domestic abuse.

“If it wasn’t for this decision, it would have stripped a lot of tools out of our toolbox,” Jackson said, pointing to the bipartisan 2022 law, which clarified language about what defines a dating partner and made gun trafficking a federal offense. Domestic abusers are most likely to get access to guns through unlicensed sellers.

“That is the No. 1 source, and now we’re able to get to how these guns are getting into the hands of domestic abusers,” he said.

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