US surgeon general declares gun violence a public health crisis

Surgeon general says widespread gun violence has led to ‘unimaginable pain’ for victims across the country.

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy
United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaks during a panel discussion in New York City on October 10, 2023 [File: Ted Shaffrey/AP Photo]

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has declared gun violence a public health crisis in the United States.

In an advisory issued on Tuesday, Murthy called for more stringent laws to limit the widespread availability of firearms, which many blame for the country’s unparalleled levels of gun violence.

“Firearm violence is an urgent public health crisis that has led to loss of life, unimaginable pain, and profound grief for far too many Americans,” Murthy said in a statement.

While high-profile mass shootings attract a large share of attention, everyday gun violence is a persistent threat that has led to a dismal upward trend of gun injuries and deaths. Murthy noted on Tuesday that young people and communities of colour are especially impacted.

It is unclear what changes, if any, the declaration could bring, with efforts to enact gun control at a standstill at the federal level, where many conservative politicians resolutely oppose any efforts to place greater limitations on firearms access.

Many Republican-led states have moved to further roll back existing restrictions. The National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful political group that has fought to further loosen limits to firearms access, called the advisory an “extension of the Biden administration’s war on law-abiding gun owners”.

Murthy said that the impact of gun violence extends beyond the roughly 50,000 people killed in the US per year, with lingering effects for those who witness or survive shootings or deal with injuries or the loss of loved ones.

“America should be a place where all of us can go to school, go to work, go to the supermarket, go to our house of worship, without having to worry that that’s going to put our life at risk,” he told the Associated Press, calling for steps such as greater background checks, the restriction of guns in public spaces, and the banning of high-power automatic rifles.

The report notes that gun violence became the leading cause of death among US children and youths in 2020, and that firearms-related deaths, which include murders and accidental deaths as well as suicides, have ticked upwards.

Such rates of gun violence make the US an aberration among comparably wealthy countries: the advisory notes that the country’s firearm mortality rate for young people is 11 times that of France, 36 times that of Germany, and 121 times that of Japan, where access to guns is highly regulated.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies