During the “Reframing gun violence as a public health issue” panel at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin, moderator and Commonwealth Fund Journalist in Residence at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Joanne Kenen asked attendees, “How many of you have been affected by gun violence?” About half of them raised their hands.
“Okay, that was a trick question,” Kenen said. “All of you should have raised your hands because even if you haven’t been directly impacted by gun violence yourself, we are all being affected by gun violence.”
According to recent Pew Research Center data, 2020 marked the highest number on record of gun deaths in the United States; approximately 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries. Although suicide accounts for about 60% of gun deaths in any given year, the total from 2020 was driven by a 35% increase in homicides from the previous year to more than 19,000.
Panelists encouraged journalists to take a public health approach to gun violence, not just a law enforcement one. “We can’t arrest our way out of a problem,” said Cassandra Crifasi, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and an expert on this topic. “Often, arresting people contributes to the perpetuation of these problems.”
“We’re spending a lot of time rescuing people who fall out of the boat, and that’s fine. But a public health approach would say, let’s also fix the railing so people don’t fall off the boat in the first place” she added.