Cesar Chelala
A physician and writer

It’s not only guns. It’s the culture

Unrelenting mass shootings in the United States show that present gun laws are ineffective to stem the increasing tide of gun deaths in the country. Although controlling gun sales is important, it is not sufficient to control gun violence in the country.

Violence is not only the result of gun ownership. Violence is multifaceted and requires the collaboration of individuals and institutions to address it. Violence is a political and legal problem (lawmakers need to pass appropriate laws); a public health problem (firearms injuries are a serious public health problem.); an educational problem (educating youth on its dangers is critical); and a social concern (it disrupts the fabric of society.)

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has been extraordinarily successful in influencing lawmakers. Although the majority of Americans say that gun laws should be more restrictive, Congress continues refusing to pass effective gun control laws.

This reluctance by mostly Republican lawmakers makes one wonder if they have children and grandchildren. How else can it be explained that they are deaf to a phenomenon that costs thousands of deaths and injured people? Why are they unable to do their part to stop a phenomenon that is a curse on our society?

The statistics are eye-opening. The U.S. has the most guns per capita and the weakest gun control laws of any developed country. It is estimated that at least a third of American adults own a gun, and an additional 11 percent live with someone who does. The Pew Research Center reports that for 82 percent of African American adults, gun violence is a very big problem –the largest share of any racial or ethnic group.

 Self-defense has been often cited to justify the people’s right to bear arms. Research, however, has shown that a gun kept in a home is much more likely to kill a member of the household or a friend than an intruder. In the U.S., the number of teenagers who die from gunshot wounds is greater than those who die from all other causes combined.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 39,707 firearm-related deaths in 2019 in the U.S., and firearm-related injuries were among the five leading causes of death for people ages 1-64 in the country. In addition, the economic impact of gun violence is substantial. It costs the government $280 billion annually on medical care and lost productivity.

Although many Americans claim that guns are necessary for security, experiences in countries such as Japan prove the fallacy of this argument. In Japan, people who purchase guns have strict background checks. They include a mental health assessment performed at a hospital, checking for evidence of drug use, and the opinion about the applicant by a relative or a colleague. As result, there are less than 100 fatalities for a population of 128 million annually.

Americans are exposed to violence since they are children. It is estimated that when a child becomes an adult, he will have seen 16,000 assassinations and 200,000 acts of violence in television. Can we be surprised when children try to imitate what they see on television and in the movies? For some of them, violence has become the normal way of solving conflicts.

Gun violence can be prevented by applying public health strategies such as continued surveillance of gun-related death and injuries; identification of risk factors; development and evaluation of interventions to reduce those factors; and institutionalization of successful prevention strategies. In addition, it requires de concerted efforts of all community members including law enforcement and public officials, teachers and school administrators, psychology experts and religious leaders.

As gun sales soar in the country, until violence is addressed as a multifaceted problem requiring multifaceted solutions, it will continue to threaten not only people’s lives but our future as a civilized society.

About the Author
César Chelala is a physician and writer born in Argentina and living in the U.S. He wrote for leading newspapers all over the world and for the main medical journals, among them The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Japan Times, The China Daily, The Moscow Times, The International Herald Tribune, Le Monde Diplomatique, Harvard International Review, The Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, Annals of Internal Medicine, and The British Medical Journal. He is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and two national journalism awards from Argentina.
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