A public health crisis, not politics: ACS task force outlines steps to address gun violence

As U.S. gun deaths continue to increase, the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Improving Social Determinants to Attenuate Violence (ISAVE) task force outlined steps the medical community must take to understand and address the root causes of gun violence at a Tuesday, October 6, panel session, Addressing the Social Determinants to Reduce Firearm Violence. The multidisciplinary task force urged health care leaders to treat gun violence as a public health crisis, understand its social causes, and develop interventions to address them.

The session will be available for on-demand viewing through the virtual Clinical Congress meeting platform through December 31.

“Despite dramatic increases in gun deaths, solutions to the problem continue to be mired in polar political battles,” said Eileen Bulger, MD, FACS, Seattle, WA, Chair of the ACS Committee on Trauma (COT). “We need to see this as a public health problem, so we can finally take meaningful action to reduce firearm deaths.”

Earl Frederick, MD, Chicago, IL, noted that, “Violent crime is a public health problem, yet we use criminal justice tools to solve it and wonder why things keep getting worse.”

During the discussion, members of the ISAVE task force outlined steps to reduce firearm violence by addressing social factors, including:

  • Helping trauma survivors cope with the aftermath of a traumatic event and heal by implementing trauma-informed care in more trauma centers.
  • Training more physicians in basic social work principles and more closely integrating social care and medical care into a patient’s care plan.
  • Creating a roadmap for investment in at-risk communities to improve health equity and increase safety.

While expert medical care is critical to treating the physical injuries associated with gun violence, medicine alone cannot solve this issue, according to ISAVE Chair Rochelle Dicker, MD, FACS, Los Angeles, CA. “Fundamentally, a change in mindset is key for the medical community to be able to take effective action on gun violence,” she said.

“We know how to solve this problem,” said Ronald M. Stewart, MD, FACS, medical director, ACS Trauma Programs, noting that a public health approach to motor vehicle deaths led to tangible actions that improved the situation. He asserts it is possible to replicate that success by working together to understand and address the root causes of violence while making firearm ownership as safe as possible.

“If we are going to address the root causes of violence, we must commit to building communities that advance health and wellness for all people,” said Dr. Bulger.