Monday, September 28, 2020

Guest Post: A New Approach to Preventing Firearm Injuries

- Gregory Engel, MD, MPH, FAAFP 

As family physicians, we see the effects of firearm injuries every day in our clinics and hospitals. We treat not only the bullet wounds but also their myriad consequences for patients and their families. At this year’s annual meeting, the AAFP House of Delegates will consider a resolution in support of creating a National Bureau for Firearm Injury Prevention. The resolution, passed by the King County Academy of Family Physicians and the Washington Academy of Family Physicians and supported by the King County Medical Society, addresses the fact that, in spite of rising firearm fatalities over the past two decades, our country lacks a comprehensive, coherent, long-term public health-based strategy to prevent the 40,000 fatal and 80,000 nonfatal firearm injuries that occur in the United States every year.

The United States has successfully faced a long-term challenge of this magnitude before. In the 1960s, the National Highway Safety Bureau - an agency dedicated to reducing motor vehicle injuries and deaths – reduced the motor vehicle death rate by two-thirds. Analogously, a National Bureau for Firearm Injury Prevention would lead a comprehensive, long-term, public health-based effort to reduce firearm deaths and injuries. Like the National Highway Safety Bureau, the National Bureau for Firearm Injury Prevention (NBFIP) would take the lead in setting the nation’s research agenda and developing, testing, and implementing firearm safety technologies. It would oversee campaigns to encourage behaviors likely to reduce firearm injuries, set out legislative priorities for saving lives, and direct priorities for enforcing firearm laws. Importantly, as a single agency dedicated to reducing firearm injuries, the NBFIP could coordinate the synergistic action of research, technology, public awareness, and legislation.

Momentum toward this approach has been building. Washington’s governor recently signed a law creating the country’s first state Office for Firearm Violence Prevention. Grassroots organizations throughout the country, like States United to Prevent Gun Violence, have endorsed as well.

As family physicians, we are the center of this health issue; it is our duty to do our part to safeguard the health of our patients and our communities. Creating a National Bureau for Firearm Injury Prevention is the most effective way to reduce firearm deaths and injuries in the decades to come.

Dr. Engel is a Copello Health Advocacy Fellow and serves on the National Steering Committee for Gun Violence Prevention. He is an attending physician at Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital in Utqiagvik, Alaska.