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National Conversation Held on Public Health Approaches to Stem Gun Violence

On November 14, The Boston University School of Public Health held “A National Consultation” regarding public health and the firearms epidemic. Representatives of almost 50 ASPPH member schools and programs attended the event. Ms. Rita Kelliher and Mr. Tony Mazzaschi of ASPPH, also participated in the meeting.

The meeting was structured to allow for the development of priorities and tactics to help mitigate the firearm epidemic and to consider how academic public health might individually and collectively engage in advancing the priorities that were developed.

The meeting began with a review of the political and legal landscape. The speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Robert DeLeo, and Maura Healey, the Massachusetts Attorney General, discussed the successful effort in the Bay State to enact legislation on background checks and other statutory provisions to keep firearms out of the hands of potential misusers. George Annas of BU provided background on recent Supreme Court cases regarding the second amendment.

Three researchers provided a survey of the current evidence about the use of firearms in America. The lack of reliable and uniform data was highlighted. Formal presentations concluded with gun control advocates discussing the status of gun violence prevention efforts at both the state and national level. It was noted that three states passed gun safety measures at the ballot box on November 8 and that more than 49 percent of the U.S. population live in states that now have universal background checks. There was a consensus that for the foreseeable future, most of the efforts to promote gun safety will occur at the state level.

The meeting concluded with participants attempting to reach consensus on advocacy strategies and tactics to advance gun safety in America. The discussions largely focused on proposed legislative and regulatory actions, efforts to develop successful communication messages, building coalitions and engaging gun owners, and developing a business case (including tax incentives) for gun safety initiatives.

The proposed strategies and tactics will be refined in the next few weeks by participants. Dean Sandro Galea of BU is planning to submit a journal article to disseminate the proposals to the larger public health community. ASPPH will also continue the discussions in a session at our annual meeting in March. The consensus strategies and tactics will also help inform the advocacy agendas of public health associations and organizations going forward.