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The Commons
Voices / Letters from readers

What if we viewed gun violence as a disease?

The writer serves as president of the Vermont Public Health Association.

Originally published in The Commons issue #449 (Wednesday, March 7, 2018). This story appeared on page E2.

The tragic massacre in Florida and Vermont’s own near miss in Fair Haven emphasizes that we continue to be caught up in an epidemic of gun violence.

More than 33,000 people die in firearms-related incidences in the U.S. annually. In Vermont, 420 people died from gun-related violence from 2011 to 2016, many the result of domestic violence and suicide.

And yet, the same pattern repeats every time a tragedy occurs: Groups retreat to tired talking points that are created and promoted by vested interests.

What if we changed our perspective and moved this debate out of the political realm? What if we thought of gun violence in terms of a disease?

With disease-related epidemics, a public-health approach has proven effective. This method determines the cause of the issue and implements evidence-based prevention strategies, using public education, thoughtful public policies, and regulations.

This approach has worked over generations to minimize illness and death associated with traditional epidemics.

The Vermont Public Health Association believes we can and should use these same strategies to reduce the injuries and deaths associated with the wide availability of guns. Thus, the passage of the bills now being considered by state legislators are part of a solid public-health process.

These bills address several weaknesses in existing law by strengthening background checks and enabling police to remove firearms in crisis situations.

We now have a real opportunity to make commonsense changes that will increase public safety by going beyond the charged political debate.

Sally Kerschner


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