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More hospital leaders, doctors and nurses are speaking out against gun violence


Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory about firearm violence. Physicians and healthcare leaders endorsed his message, and some have been more vocal on the issue.

Even before Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory last week declaring gun violence “an urgent public health crisis,” he has been working to draw attention to the issue.

Healthcare leaders are speaking out on gun violence as a public health issue, including, from left, Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health; Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, president of the American Nurses Association; and Matthew Cook, CEO of the Children’s Hospital Association.

Healthcare leaders are speaking out on gun violence as a public health issue, including, from left, Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health; Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, president of the American Nurses Association; and Matthew Cook, CEO of the Children’s Hospital Association.

In March 2023, Murthy addressed a forum on gun violence sponsored by Northwell Health. He pointed out that gun violence is the leading cause of death among children in America, “which is just unfathomable and unacceptable.” More than 4,300 American kids and teens died due to gun violence in 2020, he noted, and then compared other countries, such as the United Kingdom, with 15 firearm deaths among youth, and Germany, with 13.

“If that doesn’t tell us we’re an outlier, and not in a good way, nothing else will,” Murthy told the audience of hospital leaders in 2023.

In releasing his advisory last week, Murthy said more than half (54%) of American adults or their family members have experienced a gun-related incident in their lives.

“Firearm violence is a public health crisis,” Murthy said. “Our failure to address it is a moral crisis.”

In the days after Murthy issued his advisory, doctors, nurses and healthcare leaders offered strong support of that message. But even before Murthy issued the advisory, hospital leaders and clinicians have become more vocal about addressing gun violence and viewing it as a public health issue.

Seeing the damage

Chris Dellinger, president of the Emergency Nurses Association, says Murthy’s advisory echoes “what emergency nurses know all-too-well.”

“Emergency nurses see firsthand the damage caused by firearms – whether in a mass shooting, urban violence, self-harm or intimate partner violence – and understand deeply the need to find solutions that reduce the frequency and severity of firearm injuries and deaths,” Dellinger said in a statement.

Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, praised Murthy for issuing the advisory. “I applaud these efforts to raise awareness and foster collaboration as we work together to curb this crisis,” he wrote in a message on X (formerly known as Twitter).

Dowling has been pushing other hospital leaders to take a stronger stand on gun violence. Northwell Health hosts an annual forum on gun violence, and the event has grown and drawn more hospital and healthcare executives.

At this year’s forum in February, Dowling said, “Organizations are doing things today that they did not do before. So many of those entities that suggested back then that we shouldn't be involved are now directly involved. There's been a lot more collaboration, people working together more so than ever before.”

Hospital leaders met with senior officials in the White House on June 6, a few weeks before the surgeon general issued the advisory, to talk about the issue of gun violence. Richard Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, noted that hospitals have been distributing trigger locks and hosting events to buy back guns.

“Every day, in every single community we serve — rural, urban or suburban — hospitals see firsthand the devastating impact of not only gun violence, but all forms of community violence,” Pollack said in a statement after the White House meeting.

Matthew Cook, CEO of the Children’s Hospital Association, also attended the White House meeting and has been one of the most vocal healthcare leaders on the issue of gun violence.

After the White House forum, he wrote on LinkedIn, “Children’s hospitals across the country see firsthand the devastating impacts of gun violence on children and their families.” Cook also endorsed the surgeon general’s advisory.

Several health systems have donated $10 million in a partnership with The Ad Council on an initiative to curb gun violence. The hospitals are members of the National Health Care CEO Council on Gun Violence Prevention and Safety.

A bus of kids every week

Benjamin D. Hoffman, MD, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, hailed the surgeon general’s advisory. “Pediatricians have long understood that gun violence is a public health threat to children and that its impact on families and communities can be devastating and long-lasting,” Hoffman said in a statement on AAP’s website.

Earlier in June, Hoffman wrote a post on the AAP’s website about the scourge of gun violence and its impact on children. He cited federal data showing that gun violence claimed the lives of 68 young people between the ages of 1-19, on average, each week between 2011 and 2021. Put in a more chilling way, he wrote, that’s equivalent to a school bus full of kids every week.

“Imagine if one school bus full of children crashed each week, killing every child on board,” he wrote. “How outraged would communities be and how quick and aggressive would the response to this public health crisis be?”

Bruce A. Scott, MD, the new president of the American Medical Association, applauded the surgeon general’s advisory.

“We see the physical and emotional harm firsthand, and we dread the too-often conversations with parents, spouses, and even children in which we tell them their loved one did not make it,” Scott said in a statement. “Firearm violence is indeed a public health crisis in the United States, and the data now show it touches the majority of Americans.”

Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, president of the American Nurses Association, also welcomed the surgeon general’s advisory.

“Nurses regularly witness the catastrophic consequences of gun violence,” Mensik Kennedy said in a statement. “From treating victims in emergency rooms to supporting communities after mass shootings, nurses are well aware of the worsening nature of this crisis. Declaring gun violence a public health issue is an essential step towards determining practical solutions that can save lives and reduce the trauma and fear that grip communities nationwide.”

The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence saluted the surgeon general for issuing the advisory, and also stressed the importance of a public health framework in tackling gun violence.

Such steps to reduce gun violence include strong licensing laws, improved education on storing firearms safely, and measures to restrict firearms from those with a history of domestic violence or harming themselves. The Johns Hopkins center also notes the importance of investing in community violence intervention programs.

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