Firearm Deaths, We Can Do Better!
Firearm deaths have been labelled a public health emergency by most medical organizations (ACP, ACS, AAFP, AAP, ACOG, APA). According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2017 the total firearm-related deaths in the United States (US) was 39,773, in Ohio we had 1,589 deaths. Moreover, states with high firearm ownership like WV, AL, MS, WY, and LA had the highest age-adjusted death rates. Firearm-related deaths among children and adolescents in the US is second only to motor vehicle accidents (Cunningham, NEJM 2018). This is especially alarming as children have the most life years lost.
A new study in The Journal of Pediatrics found that states with stricter gun laws and laws requiring universal background checks for firearm purchase had lower firearm-related pediatric mortality rates. This study suggests that common sense gun laws like universal background checks can improve child mortality. But there is variation from state to state on firearm legislation. In Ohio we have a Republican House, Senate, and Governor so there has not been much appetite for stricter gun laws.
There are two Ohio House bills I wanted to discuss. First, House Bill 240 that’s cosponsored by representatives Allison Russo, Kristin Boggs, Adam Miller and Mary Lightbody of Central Ohio, which prohibits negligent storage of a firearm and to provide criminal penalties if a minor gains access to an improperly stored firearm. Depending on the circumstances, these penalties could be a either a misdemeanor or a felony. This law is important to change the culture of gun ownership and promote safe gun storage which can save lives. This law is necessary because the current culture of gun ownership does not stress safe gun storage and too many citizens are dying needlessly.
Next is House Bill 178, which eliminates the state’s concealed weapons license (CWL) requirement and codifies the right of a person who is 21 or older and not otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm to carry a handgun without first getting a CWL. Under current law Ohio residents must pay a minimum of $67 for a background check when applying for a CWL and show proof of having received at least eight hours of firearm competency and safety training. HB 178 would keep the current permitting program in place but modifies state law to stipulate it is not a crime to carry a concealed handgun without having such a license.
This law would likely lead to an increased rate of firearm-related mortality, including in children and adolescents per the above study. Increased access to firearms without proper training is a very dangerous policy and just doesn’t make sense. You have to have training and a license to drive a car, boat, and airplane so why not a gun. Would you want drivers on the road with you who are not licensed to drive? Wouldn’t that be dangerous? Moreover, the distinctive feature of guns is that they create a kind of judgement, or moment, that is often absolute and final.
According to the CDC, between 1991-2000, a typical resident from a high gun state was over ten times more likely to die in a gun accident than someone from a low gun state. For other products, our society has taken many reasonable actions to reduce injuries such as motor vehicle accidents and smoking. But for some reason we don’t apply that same logic to firearms.
We need to study firearm-related deaths just like other public health emergencies and use evidence based solutions. I’m optimistic for a safer Ohio.