Opinion: President Should Declare Gun Violence a Public Health Emergency

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: Friday, March 23, 2018; 11:00 a.m. ET

CONTACT: Karen Teber/km463@georgetown.edu

Opinion: President Should Declare Gun Violence a Public Health Emergency

WASHINGTON –  Two leading public health law scholars ­– from Georgetown Law and Stanford Law School – call on President Donald J. Trump to declare gun violence a public health emergency.

Writing in a JAMA Viewpoint (March 23), Lawrence O. Gostin, faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown Law, and his colleague Sarah Duranske, a Grey Fellow and Lecturer in Law at Stanford Law School, say such a declaration, as was done for the opioid crisis, “would shine a spotlight on gun violence, triggering research funding and law reform.”

“Gun violence is a national crisis, which should be viewed as a matter of public health urgency,” says Gostin. “In addition to declaring a public health emergency, Trump must appoint a high-level panel of leading public health scientists to set a national research agenda, fully funded, to close gaps in our knowledge of the public health measures that would best reduce the suffering, injuries, and deaths caused by firearms.”

Gostin and Duransky say such a blue-ribbon panel should be strictly non-partisan and propose a “constitutionally permissible legislative agenda,” they write. “High-quality research evaluating an intervention’s effectiveness should guide policy.”

Also, Gostin and Duransky outline six elements, compliant with the Constitution, necessary for a public health strategy to reduce gun violence:

  • Prohibit dangerous individuals from purchasing firearms
  • Enforce prohibited purchase laws
  • Safe storage/smart guns/child protection
  • Ban hazardous weapons
  • Restrict concealed-carry
  • Tools for effective crime detection and law enforcement

“Importantly, a suite of measures operating in concert is most effective [in reducing gun violence],” the public health law experts write. “In short, a well-regulated firearms environment is consistent with the Second Amendment and has substantially reduced firearm deaths in peer countries.”

The O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University is the premier center for health law, scholarship, and policy. Its mission is to contribute to a more powerful and deeper understanding of the multiple ways in which law can be used to improve the public’s health, using objective evidence as a measure. The O’Neill Institute seeks to advance scholarship, science, research, and teaching that will encourage key decision-makers in the public, private, and civil society to employ the law as a positive tool for enabling more people in the United States and throughout the world to lead healthier lives.

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