Friday, February 1, 2013

Now Is the Time

We are living in a world with guns. As much as I would like to change that, as would so many of us, I need to focus on what I can change – and what you and I as members of the largest group of healthcare professionals in the nation can change. I have committed to the following, and I urge you to do the same.

Encourage and conduct research on gun violence.

In a pivotal move to decrease gun violence, President Obama directed the Centers for Disease Control and other scientific agencies to research its causes and prevention. The President’s directive lifts a de facto 17-year ban on federal research on gun violence research. “We don’t benefit from ignorance,” he said in releasing his plan “Now Is the Time”. “We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.”

Dr. Therese Richmond, our leading researcher on violence, and other prominent researchers at Penn are positioned to work across disciplines to systematically build a science on lowering injury and death from gun violence.

Science can help keep people safe from injury and death by providing data and evidence for policy changes. We have a tremendously effective model in motor vehicle safety. When we learned that people were dying in car accidents, we did not get rid of all cars. Instead, with data and research findings, policies to enhance the safety of cars were implemented and continue to save lives. If we accomplished that with car crashes, we can accomplish that with gun violence. And nursing research must be front and center.

Change perceptions about gun violence.

Gun violence is a health issue and central to what we in nursing should care about. What happened in Newtown, CT, was tragic, and so is the gun violence that kills children and adults every day in every U.S. state. And, it is a hard truth, but when the victims of violence are brown and black, our society doesn’t pay as much attention, yet gun violence is the leading cause of death of African Americans ages 15 to 24.

Gun violence kills Americans in mass shootings that grab hearts and headlines, and gun violence kills Americans one by one every day on street corners and in homes. Four million Americans have been injured by guns in the past 30 years and approximately 30,000 die every year from guns. We cannot view the Newtown school shooting as an isolated event, nor should mass shootings be the only impetus toward action. Gun violence is a daily occurrence in the U.S., as sure as the rising and setting of the sun.

Become familiar with the facts.

Since we are not all experts in this area, what should we know and do? As nurses, we all should be conversant about the facts related to gun violence. Dr. Richmond is research director of the Firearm and Injury Center (FICAP) at Penn. FICAP has developed the fact sheet “10 Things Every Healthcare Professional Should Know about Firearm Injury.” It is evidence-based and a must-read for us all.

As President Obama said, “While we may not be able to prevent every senseless act of violence in this country, if there’s even one thing that we can do to reduce it, if even one life can be saved, we’ve got an obligation to try.”

When it comes to this socially complex, polarizing problem, the worst we can do is nothing. Nursing as a profession and nurses as individuals are committed to health and well-being, therefore a focus on enhancing the safety of people and eliminating all forms of violence, including gun violence, is part of our mission. Now is the time.

We as nurses care for people, families, and communities who trust us. We should employ that trust and data and facts to educate and to change perceptions about injury due to gun violence. We should act by engaging in research programs to reduce injury and death from gun violence. We have the courage to act, the expertise to conduct research, and the compassion and caring to change the world.

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