Obama takes a public health view on guns

From left to right: Hinna Zeejah, 8, Taejah Goode, 10, Julia Stokes, 11, and Grant Fritz, 8, who wrote letters to President Barack Obama about the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., watch as Obama signs executive orders outlining proposals to reduce gun violence, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

By Michael Yudell

President Obama's speech and executive orders were an important step forward to address gun violence. The president affirmed both his support for the Second Amendment and his commitment to quickly reduce gun violence in the wake of the national tragedies in Newtown, Aurora, Oak Creek, and Tucson.

As we’ve written here before, gun violence is a public health problem, and the president’s proposal — ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, improve mental health services, close background check loopholes, and make schools safer — treats it as such.

Any changes to gun laws, including banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines, will have to be taken up by the legislative branch, and the president promised on Wednesday to push Congress to do just that. It will be a hard road ahead to pass such legislation, but hopefully our elected officials pay attention to the national mood on gun safety matters.

According to a poll out this week from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, that mood has dramatically shifted to support basic gun safety measures: 85% of those polled support “background checks for private and gun show sales,” 67% support a “federal database to track gun sales,” and a majority support bans on semi-automatic and assault style weapons, as well as a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips.

Using the power of the executive branch, Obama on Wednesday also issued 23 Executive Orders as steps towards reducing gun violence, including allowing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “to research the causes and prevention of gun violence,” to “provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations,” to “clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes,” and to “launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.”

These measures are a first step in the right direction.

As the president said Wednesday, “in the month since 20 precious children and six brave adults were violently taken from us at Sandy Hook Elementary, more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun.”

Now we wait for Congress to act. But every day we wait more Americans will die. “The number will keep growing,” Obama said. Well aware of the political hurdles that lie ahead, the president reminded us “the only way we can change is if the American people demand it.”

So let’s demand it. Now.

Read more posts about violence and trauma on The Public's Health.