The Las Vegas mass shooting that killed 59 people and wounded several times that many, definitely raised new concerns over the potential of gun violence as a public health crisis. Along with the dead and wounded in this massacre, it also caused high numbers of psychological distress and trauma to those who survived the scene without major physical injury.

Taking this all into consideration, it could be said that guns represent a public health crisis similar to that of the prescription drug addiction epidemic. It could be argued, that just like prescription painkillers, guns are ultimately choices made by humans, but are no less dangerous. Around 100 people die every day from gunshot wounds. In 2015, gunshot deaths exceeded the deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents.

Do Guns Really Make People Safer?

A common defense of guns is that they make people safer against crime. However, it’s important to remember that over 60 percent of gun deaths are self-inflicted as a method of suicide. This is important because when guns are used to commit suicide, they are successful over 90 percent of the time. On the other hand, other common methods of suicide like wrist cutting or attempting an overdose are unsuccessful over 90 percent of the time.

Most people who attempt suicide and fail, do not make another attempt and their ultimate cause of death is not suicide. But when guns cause death 90 percent of the time in a suicide attempt, there is obviously no second chance. People who commit suicide with guns sometimes may be unable to get a gun themselves due to medical history, but very often they have friends or family members with guns. This remains the ultimate problem, just like with prescription painkillers. None of the current laws can completely prevent those who should not have guns from having them.

Guns As A Public Health Crisis

In the case of any epidemic, it’s important to focus on prevention. Doctors and other health professionals should query their patients about guns present in their house, especially for those patients at high-risk for a suicide attempt. Safe storage or removal has been shown as an effective means for preventing misuse. Ultimately, laws and restrictions can only do so much. When attempting to stop an epidemic, the goal has to be to reduce the exposure to whatever is causing it, and in the case of gun violence, the cause is obviously guns.