Reframing the Gun Control Debate: A Right to Bear Arms or a Public Health Challenge?

By: Martha Tice MS, RN, ACHPN, Clinical Nursing Editorial Director, Nurse.com
Martha Tice, RN

Martha Tice, RN

During my commute home last week, I heard a news report about the state legislature proposing stricter texting while driving laws that caught my attention. I agree that texting and driving don’t mix, but I also felt indignant that that same state legislature was unwilling to address laws to improve background checks for gun purchases. I also drive by the National Riffle Association national headquarters every day, which makes my daily commute a constant reminder of that organization’s strong lobby and stance on gun regulation.

While I grew up in a rural Kansas town, my dad did not own a gun or participate in hunting as a sport. He was present at Normandy and came home from World War II with no interest in owning a gun for any purpose. But I do have extended family that enjoys hunting, and I’ve enjoyed eating pheasant and quail from some of those hunting trips — venison less so!

I didn’t grow up in fear of guns, I just didn’t think much about them. Unfortunately my kids have not had that luxury. They experienced the fear generated by the beltway sniper shootings of 2002 — living less than six miles from the gas station where one of the killings took place. My youngest daughter endured the lock down of her high school after police officers were gunned down at the their station a few blocks away from her school and a few minutes from our home (perpetrated by a former student from the school). And she had high school classmates who died from the Virginia Tech shootings, including the shooter. Those were scary times for us as a family. I am saddened that so many more have had to live through similar mass shootings in the past year.

I don’t have the solution to solving the gun control debate, but I don’t think discussing the subject as only a personal right to bear arms will solve it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 31,000 people died in the U.S. from gun-related incidents during 2010; a comparable number died from motor vehicle accidents (34,000), and fewer died from HIV/AIDs (18,234). Yet legislators have passed mandatory laws for HIV testing in certain circumstances and for seat belt laws. In each of these instances the intent was to balance individual rights with the health of others and the need to take reasonable action to save lives.

I believe if we approach gun regulation from a public health perspective, we may have a chance of making meaningful progress toward decreasing the risk of another tragedy like Newtown.

Here are my recommendations for courses that can help you to be part of the solution:

Epidemiology: Introductory Concepts
People are more likely to act on advice that is backed by rationale and science. Consider how the use of epidemiology could help move the gun debate toward compromise.

Helping Children Who Are Being Teased and Bullied
Understand the effects of bullying and learn evidence-based strategies with the potential to prevent severe consequences of bullying.

Forensic Nursing and School Shooters
Be alert to the red flags of potential school shooters and be part of the solution.

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