US Surgeon General declares gun crime in US a national emergency

Gun crime in the US is a national emergency, the Surgeon General has said.

Dr Vivek Murthy, the nation’s top doctor, made the declaration amid the fast-growing number of injuries and deaths involving firearms in the US.

“People want to be able to walk through their neighborhoods and be safe,” Murthy told The Associated Pressin a phone interview. “America should be a place where all of us can go to school, go to work, go to the supermarket, go to our house of worship, without having to worry that that’s going to put our life at risk.”

The number of mass shootings in the US has been growing steadily each year since 2018, reaching 656 in 2023. That is compared to 335 in 2018.

As the number of mass shootings has grown, so has the number of gun related deaths, with 18,854 in 2023 compared to 14,943 in 2018.

So far in 2024 there has been 249 mass shootings, with 8,115 deaths, according to the national gun archive.

Just this weekend, mass shootings left dozens dead or wounded at a party in Alabama, an entertainment district in Ohio and a grocery store in Arkansas.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy speaks during an event on the White House complex in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2024 (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy speaks during an event on the White House complex in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2024 (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

To drive down gun deaths, Murthy says the US should ban automatic rifles, introduce universal background checks for purchasing guns, regulate the industry, pass laws that would restrict their use in public spaces and penalize people who fail to safely store their weapons.

None of those suggestions can be implemented nationwide without legislation passed by Congress, which typically recoils at gun control measures. However, some states have enacted or may consider some of the surgeon general’s proposals.

Murthy has previously battled with GOP members of Congress over gun control, with Republican lawmakers opposing his confirmation twice over his statements on gun violence.

The Surgeon General ended up promising the Senate that he did “not intend to use my office as surgeon general as a bully pulpit on gun control.”

Then-President Donald Trump dismissed Murthy in 2017, but President Joe Biden nominated him again to the position in 2021. At his second confirmation hearing, he told senators that declaring guns a public health crisis would not be his focus during a new term.

But he has faced mounting pressure from some doctors and Democratic advocacy groups to speak out more.

Murthy answered those calls this week with a call to action.

“It is now time for us to take this issue out of the realm of politics and put it in the realm of public health, the way we did with smoking more than a half century ago,” he told The Associated Press.

He added that children and younger Americans are particularly affected by gun violence, with suicide-related gun deaths increasing significantly in recent years for Americans under the age of 35. He said that his research shows that children in the US are far more likely to die from gun wounds than children in other countries.

Over 1,600 children and teenagers died from gun violence in the US in 2023, while 678 have already died in the US this year.

Murthy concluded that there is “broad agreement” that gun violence is a problem, citing a poll last year that found most Americans worry at least sometimes that a loved one might be injured by a firearm.

He ended his advisory, titled “Firearm Violence: A Public Health Crisis in America,” by calling for an increase in gun violence research and for the health system to promote gun safety education during doctor visits.