CNN recently aired an exclusive interview with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, on the longstanding and compelling need to understand firearm injury as a health problem. Despite many years of political advocacy for gun control—costing hundreds of millions of dollars in private funding—the health toll from firearm misuse, injury, and death has continued to rise. To make matters worse, the national discourse on how Americans should address this societal problem has only become more rancorous.
Dr. Walensky and the CDC recognize that by investing in non-partisan health research, we will develop health programs that can have an immediate impact on treating this crisis. As part of this strategy, she recognized that firearm owners and experts must be engaged directly. Dr. Walensky and CNN identified several groups already working successfully in this space and came to Vermont to see some of this work in progress.
Christopher Barsotti, MD, co-founder and program director of AFFIRM at the Aspen Institute, met with Dr. Rochelle Walensky at the weekly meeting of his 4-H Shooting Sports club, where he serves as a rifle instructor. 4-H is among the largest youth development organizations in the United States, with nearly 500,000 shooting sports participants each year. National 4-H Shooting Sports representatives are co-investigators in a CDC grant recently awarded to Brown University and AFFIRM’s other co-founder, Megan Ranney, MD, MPH. This study will evaluate novel methods for firearm injury prevention that utilize the exemplary leadership of firearm owners, trainers, and youth development experts.
Dr. Walensky visited Vermont to learn from gun owners and encourage them to share their knowledge of firearm safety: “Teach me what you do to make your gun safe—and then let’s teach everyone else.”
4-H, AFFIRM, and others in the gun-owning community know that firearm safety requires much more than safety training, and what we do to make our guns safe is to be responsible ourselves. As recognized in the 4-H pledge, responsibility runs deep, and requires personal health and clarity of mind in the service of others: “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living – for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”
What truly determines how a gun will be used is the mental, physical and social health of the handler. Programs of AFFIRM unify the knowledge and traditions of responsible gun ownership with health expertise to develop compassionate, evidence-based individual and community health interventions to increase safety and decrease the risk of firearm misuse at every opportunity.
Dr. Walensky and CNN also emphasized the importance of quality data to understand firearm-related injuries and referenced the vital work of the Gun Violence Archive, an independent data collection and research group with no affiliation with any advocacy organization. GVA collects data from over 7,500 law enforcement, media, government, and commercial sources daily to provide near-real-time data about the results of firearm injuries, and is widely recognized by public health and medical researchers as one of the best and most important data resources.
Preventing firearm injuries and death is a priority concern for all Americans. We are honored to work with the media and the CDC to demonstrate how all of us—health professionals, firearm trainers, industry experts, researchers, educators, emergency personnel—can secure a healthier, safer future for us all.