A Comprehensive View on Gun Violence and Public Health

Aaron Knuteson and Marissa Glick 


Written by Aaron Knuteson and Marissa Glick

“The amount of funding gun violence prevention and gun policy research receives from the federal government doesn’t match the burden of mortality and morbidity caused by gun violence in this country,” stated Cassandra Crifasi of the John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. The problem with the current approach to gun violence legislation is the large disagreement over what type of issue gun violence is – some even argue that there is no issue at all. Is gun violence a public health, cultural, governmental, constitutional, or even just a personal issue? The American Public Health Association argues that gun violence is a public health issue that must be solved with a comprehensive public-health approach. Their reasoning stems from their own research that states, “Gun violence is a leading cause of premature death in the U.S. Guns kill more than 38,000 people and cause nearly 85,000 injuries each year.” Despite these alarming numbers, we still do not have much research on the possession and use of firearms, and without such data the argument for gun control and gun conservation is diminished. From a research perspective, we need to know the facts in order to make informed decisions on guns. Even if gun control were officially deemed a public health issue, it seems that politically the left and the right have already fallen into a perpetual stalemate due to the lack of gun violence research. Without a qualitative analysis to different approaches of gun legislation, the country will continue to battle until each gun violence incident succumbs to our fast moving world and becomes yesterday’s news on our Facebook timelines. Because America cannot agree on how to tackle this ongoing issue today, we call the public-health approach to gun violence into question. Where is the intersection between public-health and gun violence, and what has prevented America from moving forward with science based gun-violence research and legislation?

A Brief History of Gun Violence and Science


The Brady Bill is passed by President Clinton, declaring that background checks are mandatory for a customer wishing to purchase a firearm from a federally licensed dealer. The law was enacted in response to the attempted assassination on President Reagan. Brady, of The Brady Bill, was press secretary at the time and was shot in the head, leaving him with sustained paralysis.

Section 922(g) of the Brady Bill prohibits certain persons from shipping or transporting any firearm in interstate or foreign commerce, or receiving any firearm which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, or possessing any firearm in or affecting commerce. These prohibitions apply to any person who:

  • Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
  • Is a fugitive from justice;
  • Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
  • Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
  • Is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States;
  • Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
  • Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced U.S. citizenship;
  • Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner, or;
  • Has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.


The Clinton administration passed The Dickey Amendment, stating that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” The amendment was passed under the pressure of the National Rifle Association (NRA). This major legislation came just years after the 1993 Arthur Kellermann study that demonstrated a positive correlation between the number of guns in a household and an increased rate of homicide. As you might suspect, the NRA was very much opposed to this study, and that’s where their support of the gun-protecting legislation stemmed. The NRA pushed for this bill because they perceived its bias in favor of limiting gun-control. That year, Congress re-allocated the budget that had been set aside for firearms research to traumatic brain injury research. Jay Dickey, the Congressman responsible for the bill stated in a 2015 NPR interview that the goal of the bill was to “not let any of those dollars go to gun control advocacy… And it wasn’t necessary that all research stop. It just couldn’t be the collection of data so that they can advocate gun control. That’s all we were talking about. But for some reason, it just stopped altogether.”

Two decades later, the bill’s lasting effects are evident. David Hemenway, the director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, told the Washington Post that the bill’s lasting effect is prevalent because “it’s not only CDC but [the National Institute of Health] has also not done its role in this. And foundations haven’t stepped up because they’re afraid.” The bill allowed firearms research, but the CDC and other health institutes don’t research the topic for fear that NRA lobbyists would protest. Not only does the NRA push back against gun-regulation legislatively, but it also contributes its own dollars to advance “gun rights.”


In response to Sandy Hook, President Obama, who dubbed the day of the shooting as the worst day of his presidency, signed 23 executive orders in an attempt to halt the continuation of mass shootings. While the signing of these executive orders was not meant to be the end all to mass shootings, they ended up acting as nothing but symbolic ideals of “what America is supposed to do.” President Obama lifted the ban on the CDC research with these executive orders, but nothing has necessarily been done since.

What Are Federal Regulations on Firearms

As posted on the National Rifle Association’s website, some generic national laws are in place. With minor variations from state to state, the following are ineligible for the possession of firearms or ammunition: those convicted of various punishable crimes, fugitives, drug abusers, the mentally ill, illegal immigrants, dishonorably discharged members of the Armed forces, individuals under the age of 18 for the purchase of a shotgun or rifle, and individuals under the age of 21 for other firearms.

It is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison for the following people to receive, possess, or transport any firearm or ammunition: someone convicted of or under indictment for a felony punishable by more than one year in prison, someone convicted of a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years in prison, a fugitive from justice, an unlawful user of any controlled substance, someone who has been ruled as mentally defective or has been committed to any mental institution, an illegal alien, someone dishonorably discharged from the military, someone who has renounced his or her U.S. citizenship, someone subject to certain restraining orders, and someone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor.

It is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison to sell or transfer any firearm or ammunition to someone while “knowing” or having “reasonable cause to believe” this person falls into any of the prohibited categories listed above.

It is illegal to “engage in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in firearms” without a federal license to do so.

It is illegal for any federally licensed firearms business to sell or transfer any firearm without first conducting a background check to see if the buyer/recipient falls into any of the prohibited categories listed above.

It is illegal for anyone except a federally licensed firearms business to sell, buy, trade, or transfer a firearm across state lines.

Under federal law, private individuals are not required to a conduct a background check before selling or transferring a firearm to someone who lives in the same state, but it is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison for a private individual to sell or transfer a firearm while “knowing” or having “reasonable cause to believe” that the recipient falls into one of the prohibited categories above.

Some states such as California require background checks for all firearms transactions, including those conducted between private individuals.

Where Are The Strictest Gun Laws in America?

Since there’s no uniform gun laws across the country, some states naturally have stricter laws than others. A Washington Post article looked at seven types of state gun control: red flag laws, relinquishment laws, assault weapons bans, high-capacity magazine bans, gun possession prohibitions for high-risk individuals, gun possession prohibitions for individuals with domestic violence convictions and mandatory background checks.” With this criteria, only two states, California and Connecticut, enforce all seven, and a couple states enforce none at all.  

What’s Next?

With the help of the strong-willed Stoneman Douglas students, gun violence has been brought to the forefront of America’s mind. These students have created important dialect, something that needed to be created so long ago but was not. With that said, the shootings of late demonstrate something is not quite right. We still have not appropriately approached the situation as a public health issue. As stated previously, gun violence is the leading cause of premature death in the United States. As a nation, we have a duty to take action against prevalent problems. In order to move forward, Congress should set aside funding for gun violence research. Without proper research our gun laws are purely hypothetical solutions, because we do not know what works and what does not. Without empirical scientific evidence we take a shot in the dark with every gun control law that we pass. That is not to say that gun control should not be passed, but every gun control law that is passed needs to be well funded researched. We live in a country that feels threatened by science. If we are to get anywhere, we must have some faith in science and be willing to put our preconceived notions to the side.



      1. http://abcnews.go.com/US/federal-government-study-gun-violence/story?id=50300379
      2. https://www.justfacts.com/guncontrol.asp
      3. https://blog.ucsusa.org/kathleen-rest/the-disturbing-facts-of-gun-violence-research-in-the-us
      4. http://theconversation.com/why-is-there-so-little-research-on-guns-in-the-us-6-questions-answered-92163
      5. https://www.nraila.org/articles/20040324/citizen-s-guide-to-federal-firearms-law
      6. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/national/assault-weapons-laws/?utm_term=.ba0fd278df97
      7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brady_Handgun_Violence_Prevention_Act

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