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Gun Violence in the Black Community is a National Public Health Emergency

Gun violence in the African American community is a national public health and safety issue and should be treated as such. Strategies are necessary to stem the rate at which black men are murdering each other.

The American Journal of Medicine reports that homicide is the leading cause of death among young African American men. Ninety-one percent (91%) of the deaths were due to firearms. Medical professionals believe that eliminating wanton homicides due to firearms would improve the life expectancy of young black men more than any other cause of death other than cardiovascular disease or cancer. For them, gun violence is a matter of public health and safety and should be addressed using scientific methodologies in the same way you would address any other issue of public safety.

Gun violence and gun-related homicides are bordering on epidemic health and safety proportions in the African American community. However since 1996 public health research in gun violence, such as the type conducted by the National Institute of Health or the Centers for Disease Control, has been generally discouraged and research that advocates or supports gun control is explicitly forbidden. It would be morally repugnant and intellectually dishonest to continue to block research into the problem.

The need to address the high incident of homicides due to gun violence in the African American community is a perfect example of how problems in the black community relate to national issues and require national focus. Leveraging the black community to define, research, develop and test solutions to gun violence can be leveraged in communities throughout America.

Unfortunately, when it comes to guns, public health organizations are barred from collecting evidence-based data in the same way they would other public health issues, for example cigarette smoking or driving while intoxicated. The ban prevents medical and public health professionals from providing qualitative analysis in support of firearm legislation. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence found that “without hard information, policymakers are stuck arguing against emotional and ideological positions rather than evidence-based ones.”

Under no other conceivable scenario would medical and public health researchers be legislatively prevented from doing their jobs. If gun violence is the leading cause of death amongst a significant portion of African Americans then the medical community should be allowed to determine why. The National Research Center found that the lack of data on gun usage is “among the most critical barriers to a better understanding of gun violence.”

President Obama has included $30 million of new funding in the 2014 Federal Budget to support research by the Centers for Disease Control into gun violence prevention strategies. In January he issued a memorandum authorizing Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, to direct the CDC to conduct or sponsor research into the causes of gun violence and the ways to prevent it. Congressional approval for the funding would end a 17-year drought on gun violence research.

Homicide deaths due to gun violence amongst African American men highlight the challenge of finding the balance between Second Amendment rights and the enforcement of gun control laws. In most instances it is an illegal handgun that is the weapon used in the commission of the murder. Even when it is not, most of these young men are certainly not licensed to carry a concealed weapon. Dominik Wodarz, a mathematical biologist who works on disease and evolutionary dynamics said to TGDaily, "It's time to bring a scientific framework to this problem."

Medical academics would like the opportunity to gather evidence around these dynamics so that lawmakers can implement evidence-based legislation. They challenge the assumption that individual behavior and mandatory sentencing for unlicensed firearms is sufficient to address the concern. The American Public Health Association noted that “we cannot arrest our way out of this public health crisis.” Wodarz and his wife Natalia Komarova, a mathematician who studies biomedical and social trends, explained "what is under debate is essentially an epidemiological problem."

Wodarz and Komarova have designed parameters to measure how to prevent gun-related homicides and have presented their findings in a peer reviewed paper, but more is needed.

A little research into solving the problem of gun violence in the African American community could go a long way.

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