Gun violence expert says tackling underlying inequities key to prevention

Gun violence expert says tackling underlying inequities key to prevention

Through the news media, Americans are served an almost-daily dose of violence caused by guns. This year to date, more than 33,929 people in the United States have been killed and another 30,000+ have been injured by guns. The U.S. homicide rate for firearms is 22 times greater than that of the European Union, even though the European population is 35% larger.

But to Dr. Garen Wintemute, the statistics on injuries and deaths are only one part of the story. To reverse those appalling numbers, he says, the larger focus must be on changing the conditions that foster gun violence. These include the underlying inequities that are baked into the essence of American life.

“Violence has social determinants, such as disparities based on race/ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, place of origin and other characteristics,” says Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California at Davis School of Medicine. He is an expert in the public health crisis of gun violence and a pioneer in injury epidemiology and prevention of firearm violence.

But to Dr. Garen Wintemute, the statistics on injuries and deaths are only one part of the story. To reverse those appalling numbers, he says, the larger focus must be on changing the conditions that foster gun violence. These include the underlying inequities that are baked into the essence of American life.

To really understand the root of gun violence, Wintemute says, you have to understand that the systemic forces that gave rise to it were intentional. “The structures that engender and perpetuate violence were built purposefully and must be taken down just as purposefully,” he says.

Wintemute has been leading by example. Since the 1980s, the emergency medicine doctor has been documenting and working to undo the grip that guns have on life and death in America, destroying lives and communities. Way ahead of the curve, Wintemute was among the first to call gun violence a public health crisis, in line with the former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, who wrote about it in 1995 while pushing for more funding to examine it.

Wintemute’s research, which includes undercover work at gun shows around the country, has helped to thwart the use of the widely popular handgun known as the Saturday Night Special. This cheap weapon, banned in West Hollywood, the city of Compton and 16 communities in the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-1990s and other handguns have been linked to 90% of injuries and between 70 and 80% of murders over an 18-year period. His research and testimony also led to legislative debate attempting to restrict the sale of assault rifles, including the AK-47. And in 1997, Time magazine named Wintemute a Hero of Medicine for his gun violence prevention work.

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