Over the past several months, our nation has endured multiple incidents of gun violence and mass shootings that hit especially close to home in Southern Nevada. Deaths and injuries related to firearms continue to be a leading public health crisis in the United States.
For the second year in a row, this number has risen, making it 12 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a community that has experienced the all-too-real consequences of this alarming trend, we can no longer let this problem be put on the back burner as our politicians seek to appease the gun lobby.
In 2016, Nevada voters passed Question 1, approving background checks on private gun sales. Shortly after the election, Attorney General Adam Laxalt told Nevadans that the initiative was not enforceable, even though the question passed. As trusted members of a profession dedicated to protecting and preserving life, we present a united and authoritative voice to an issue that we feel needs to be addressed. We need to enforce the law.
Additionally, numerous professional health care organizations have issued position statements supporting stricter controls on assault weapons, firearm purchases and improved access to mental health and other resources. By using a harm-reduction approach to this issue, we can vastly improve the safety and security of our communities.
These measures can include:
■ Universal background checks on all firearm purchases. As of now, background checks are required for all firearm purchases at gun stores. In an effort to take precautionary measures, we must extend these laws to include all sales at gun shows, by gun dealers and private sales by individuals.
■ Improved access and availability of mental health resources. While mental health disorders should not be stigmatized, access to firearms can be a significant factor in suicide. Intervention and treatment of mental health and substance disorders is an important part of any injury prevention and firearm safety strategy.
■ Assault weapon and large-capacity magazine ownership. There needs to be a thorough review of the need for private ownership of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. Restriction of ownership would not eliminate a person’s right to own a firearm, but could lead to greater protection of the public.
■ New and updated research. In 1996 The Dickey Amendment was implemented into a funding bill, mandating the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could no longer use injury prevention funds to advocate for gun control. New studies must be funded to ensure policy decisions and legislation are backed by well-researched and evidence-based data.
As a health care professional, I plead with you to demand more from our elected officials. For far too long, our families and loved ones have been continually been put in harm’s way, while nothing has gotten done in Washington, D.C. We can do better. Through bipartisan cooperation on sensible gun policy at the state and federal levels, we can help make ensure that Oct. 1 never happens again.
Dr. Joseph Iser is chief health officer for the Southern Nevada Health District.