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Public Health Advocates Push Gun Safety Over Gun Control

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Andy Teo (Flickr)
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Members of the public health community are calling for action on gun violence by shifting the conversation away from gun control.

The group is focusing on gun safety in an effort to find common ground among gun rights activists and those looking for reform.

Eighty-two people, including health care professionals and college professors, havesigned an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health. University of South Florida Public Health professor Karen Lillersays it outlines steps that can be taken to curb gun violence. Liller also says it proposes the use of private funding for gun safety research  - since federal money is not available.

"Over the years what we've seen is so much funding has been cut for the gun violence and the firearm issue that our lack of research in this area is getting worse and worse," she said.

In 1996, Congress added language to a bill that said funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research injury prevention could not be used to promote gun control. Congress later added the same language to bills funding the National Institutes of Health.

Since then, funding has dried up. Liller says, based on the number of gun-related deaths, funding for gun violence research is a fraction of what it should be.

“Gun violence research is the least researched cause of death in terms of mortality rates and the second least funded,” Liller said. “So you can see that, where we should be and where we are, it makes sense why we haven’t moved forward.”  

Representatives from colleges of public health plan to meet with private organizations, foundations and other groups that can provide funding to gun safety research. 

In addition to securing private funding for research, the editorial includes four other initiatives to improve gun safety: build networks and collaborate with pro-firearm advocates; promote conversations around gun safety instead of gun control; work on state-level measures; and engage the health care industry and other businesses that can give the issue legitimacy.

The initiative involves bringing in everyone into the conversation, including the businesses that make guns, the real estate industry, business owners, school administrators, gun owners and others.  

“You need to hear that different opinion because that public opinion and the efficacy of groups like the NRA and others is what’s keeping us from moving forward,” Liller said. “And if we don’t talk to them, if we don’t listen to them, we’re never gonna move forward.” 

Julio Ochoa is editor of Health News Florida.