Every day in my practice, I counsel patients on issues that will improve their health. I discuss diet, exercise, alcohol, drugs, smoking and driving safety. A few months ago, I received a call from a patient who wanted to thank me for saving his life. I felt gratified by the credit, but was unaware of what I had done.
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He reminded me that I had told him to wear his seatbelt. This is one of the most important pieces of healthy lifestyle advice I could give him at his 20-something age.
Because of his seatbelt, he was able to walk away from a car accident with only minor injuries. Police told him he would have died had it not been for the seatbelt.
Motor vehicle accidents are a health challenge in the United States. Yet thanks to public health initiatives, the number of deaths from accidents has decreased dramatically in recent decades.
These initiatives include speed limit and seatbelt laws, airbag regulations, better highway design, baby seat and child seat laws, and stricter and better enforcement of drunken-driving laws.
Guns: A public health issue
One of the dominant public health issues of today is gun safety.
Every day in my practice, I address the issue by counseling parents with young children about gun safety. Or, I suggest to my patients with depression that, if they own a gun, perhaps a friend or family member should keep the firearm until my patient feels better.
Firearms cause 90 deaths every day in the United States. That’s more than 33,000 deaths a year – about the same number of deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents.
Suffice to say, the gun safety challenge is much bigger than my practice. It’s time to recognize the magnitude of this issue and work together to develop a rational approach to gun safety. It may involve a combination of research, education and regulations, which have been effective with other challenges in the past.
What you can do
Here is what you, as a patient, can do to reduce gun violence, injury and death:
- For starters, make decisions based on currently available information. If you think a gun will keep you safe at home, you may want to consider this: Studies show there’s a significantly greater chance of that gun being used against you then being used in self-defense.
- Tragically, there were 265 accidental shootings by children in 2015. If you decide to own a gun, take a course in gun safety and keep your gun locked up and unloaded. This is particularly critical when you consider suicides and youth. Suicides are a leading cause of death for 13- to 19-year-olds, and often are impulsive acts. The risk of suicide is up to 10 times higher in homes with guns than in homes without; a gun that’s loaded and unlocked raises the risk even more.
- You may want to consider purchasing a “smart” gun. These type of guns include a safety feature such as a computer chip, fingerprint recognition, or magnetic ring that allows the gun to fire only when activated by its authorized user. You can actively advocate for gun stores to carry smart guns to give people the option.
- I would encourage you to become an advocate for research into gun violence, including the related epidemiology, prevention, safety and risks. In addition, you can support efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of regulations, interventions and strategies for preventing injuries and deaths caused by guns.
- Finally, 40 percent of all guns in the United States are purchased through the public sector. We can leverage the power of market share to insist that gun manufacturers set higher standards to limit the flow of guns to criminals, invest in strategies to improve gun safety and technologies, and cooperate with law enforcement agencies to trace guns used in crimes.
It is time to work together toward saving lives. While it may seem there’s not much we as individuals can do to address the public health challenge of guns, I encourage you to consider the above suggestions.
This post is based on one of a series of articles produced by U.S. News & World Report in association with the medical experts at Cleveland Clinic.