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SUMMARY FOR MEDIA
The Forum at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
677 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02115

On-Demand Video: Preventing Gun Violence: Public Health Perspectives
Event held January 26, 2016
For immediate release

In the latest in a series of live webcasts by The Forum at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a panel of experts examined President Obama’s recent executive actions on gun violence and outlined possible ways past the blockade in Congress: shifting the national conversation to a “gun health” framework, enlisting gun owners and first responders, and promoting legislative action at the state and local levels. The panel was conducted January 26, 2016.

Below are highlights of the conversation for media use. 

This Forum was presented in collaboration Reuters.

EXPERT PARTICIPANTS
David Hemenway, Professor of Health Policy and Management, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Director, Harvard Injury Control Research Center
 
Felton Earls, Professor of Human Behavior and Development, Emeritus, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
 
David King, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School, and Chair, Harvard’s Bi-Partisan Program for Newly Elected Members of the U.S. Congress
 
Mike McLively, Staff Attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence

MODERATOR
Scott Malone, Editor in Charge, General News, Northeastern United States, Reuters

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE DISCUSSION
  • On average, more than 300 people are shot every day in the United States and, of those, more than 90 die. The United States has more guns and weaker gun laws than other developed countries. While crime rates have declined among all such countries, gun suicide rates in the U.S. are up.
  • When Switzerland reduced its armed militia by 40 percent, and so cut gun ownership, the suicide rate among males 18 to 37 fell by 30 percent, although rates for women and older men stayed stable. Other suicide methods did not replace gun use either.
  • Suicide is a problem across demographic sectors in the U.S. However, within the age group of 15-19, the highest rates are among African-American males. 
  • Communities that are hard hit with economic and education problems, that have high mass incarceration rates, have the least access to mental health services.
  • One panelist cited a 2005 study finding that children exposed to gun violence face “a potent risk factor”: they are 2.5 times more probable to become violent themselves.
  • A major shooting incident creates a push for stronger laws but also raises resistance, and little happens at the federal level. President Obama resorted to executive actions because the U.S. Congress is gridlocked.
  • Local and state ballot initiatives and laws can be more effective. Of 1,000-plus court decisions on such laws since 2008, 94 percent have upheld measures such as background checks and prohibitions on certain dangerous weapons.
  • The NRA and gun owners’ pride in self-reliance and independence can be embraced by re-framing the discussion to one of “gun health” for our children and teenagers, freedom of speech and wise use of public resources.
  • Congressional restrictions on Centers for Disease Control gun research and reporting have tied “two hands behind our backs,” one panelist said, so that the agency is “afraid to say the word ‘guns’ in public meetings,” another said. A third said this result is in direct conflict with freedom of speech and inquiry.
  • Polls show broad public support for background checks and other gun health measures, so movements like Black Lives Matter might embrace it as a community issue. First responders and other gun owners must be welcomed into the conversation.
To watch the full one-hour Forum, visit ForumHSPH.org.

Contact: Christina Roache, croache@hsph.harvard.edu  tel. 617-432-7094
Click the links below to watch clips from the event.
The U.S. gun problem
Hemenway: “We have an enormous problem in the United States: on an average day in the United States, over 300 people are shot…we have more than 90 people dying… we have lots more guns… we have by far the weakest laws among the two dozen first-world countries.” The U.S. overall gun death rate is 10 times higher than other advanced countries. 
Suicide rates 
In the United States, 61 percent of our 32,000 gun deaths per year are suicides. “The stigma surrounding suicide and the sort of absence of media attention to suicide makes it a kind of silent aspect of this firearm epidemic that we have.” A Swiss study in 2007-2011 examined suicide rates after a law cut the civil militia by 40 percent. “Only males between the ages of 18 and 37, 38, had a reduction in suicide. The women didn’t…and older males didn’t…So the 30 percent suicide drop was directly related to the fact that men no longer had access to guns.” “Suicide is a problem not just of some demographic sectors of American society, but it’s across the board.”
 
U.S. laws
McLively: Although 1,300 gun bills were introduced last year, U.S. gun laws are “very weak and they’re not comprehensive,” serving as “a baseline that states can choose to build above,” although few do. Sometimes federal laws are negative: “In the mid-‘90s Congress actually essentially shut down funding for the CDC to study the issue of gun violence…we’ve actually tied one, if not two hands, behind our backs, thanks to our federal laws really preventing us from even studying this epidemic.” “There’s a very strong correlation between states having stronger gun laws and lower gun death rates, and the reverse is true.”
 
Changing the terms of debate
King: “When there’s a lot of pressure for some kind of a federal change, that’s when the NRA and others are at their strongest.” Minds don’t change easily. “If we can change the frame from talking about gun violence to gun health, we can stop talking so much about assault ban weapons and start recognizing that it’s our teenagers, it’s our children, it’s people who we know who are committing suicide.” In evoking that, “President Obama’s move with an executive order was the only thing he could do because Congress is blocked.”
 
State and Local Efforts: Highlight from Preventing Gun Violence
Preventing gun violence
King: “The role of the NRA--we talk about them as if they are this 800-pound gorilla. It’s false; they’re basically a 1,200-pound gorilla.” The “hope at the federal level, I think, is probably going to come more through the courts, and I have more hope at the state and local level...the 36,000 townships and municipalities in this country…and then [their efforts may] possibly bubble up.”

 
State and local action 
McLively: Local action includes 125 “significant gun safety reforms enacted since [2012] in 41 different states." “The gun violence prevention movement is finding strategies at the state and local level to be more effective,” although pre-emption laws that prioritize looser federal statutes can be a challenge. Since 2008, courts have ruled on more than 1,000 gun law cases, “and in 94 percent of the cases the Second Amendment claim is rejected…everything from background checks to prohibitions on certain dangerous weaponry, those are being upheld by the courts.” 
 
Other approaches 
Hemenway: Gun manufacturers can "create guns which are hard to steal,” gun shops can be trained to recognize potentially suicidal buyers, gun trainers can talk about gun suicide in addition to accident prevention, gun owners can help friends at risk, doctors can discuss preventing gun access as part of suicide-prevention plans.
 
Earls: Ending mass incarceration means “We’re on the verge of having hundreds of thousands of men who’ve been in prison coming back to the community unprepared for family life, or community life…we need to care and support these men.”
 
Expert recommendations 
Each expert offered a single policy recommendation at the end of the program.
Through in-person events paired with state-of-the-art interactive webcasting, The Forum at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health convenes the best-informed and most influential scientists, policymakers, and practitioners to address worldwide health problems that require immediate decisions and practical solutions.

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Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators, and students, we work together to take innovative ideas from the laboratory to people's lives-not only making scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change individual behaviors, public policies, and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 faculty members at the Harvard Chan School teach 1,000-plus full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the School is recognized as America's oldest professional training program in public health.
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