Gun violence in the U.S. is an epidemic, with nearly 40,000 people in the U.S. dying from gun-related causes in 2017 alone.

While more research is needed to fully address the problem, implementing existing evidence-based interventions and policy solutions now can save lives and prevent harm.

On Sept. 23, APHA and the Bloomberg American Health Initiative at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health will examine the scientific data behind gun violence prevention policies during a forum at the Newseum’s Knight Studio in Washington, D.C.

Public Health Newswire spoke with two of the event speakers, Georges Benjamin, MD, APHA executive director; and Joshua Sharfstein, MD, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, about the U.S. epidemic of gun violence and what forum viewers can expect to learn.

What factors play a role in U.S. gun violence?

Benjamin: The U.S. has an unacceptably high incidence of deaths from firearms when compared to many other nations. We know a lot about why this is, but we haven’t made the investments in research essential to inform many of the policy decisions we believe would make us even safer.

In fact, we’ve tied the hands of the institutions that are designed to study the problem and make recommendations for solutions as we do with every other public safety and health threat.

How does the U.S. fare currently on policies to prevent gun violence?

Benjamin: Regrettably, the U.S. has not taken a data-driven, evidence-informed approach to reducing death and injury from firearms. We do know a lot, which will allow us to act on some policies now. For example, we know background checks work. But we have many holes in the current process, so we need universal background checks to address the loopholes in the current system.

Sharfstein: Our country does not fare well in international comparisons. We have fewer effective policies in place and a lot more gun violence.

There are policies that we know work, which will be discussed at length during the Sept. 23 forum. Can you touch on some of those?

Sharfstein: We’ve invited top experts to speak about a range of policies backed by evidence that will save lives. The specific policies to be presented include some directly related to risk, such as extreme risk protective orders; some related to guns, such as licensing; and still others related to the causes of violence, such as community-based approaches to resolving disputes.

A key goal of this forum is to set out key evidence so the public health field — and the public at large — knows what can be done.

Recent polls show Americans support measures to reduce U.S. gun violence. What stands in the way of making this happen?

Sharfstein: It is no secret that Congress has so far refused to enact laws backed by the overwhelming majority of Americans related to gun violence, even in the wake of deadly tragedies. Nonetheless, pressure is building for a range of reforms that both protect constitutional rights and reduce unnecessary deaths.

Benjamin: Policymakers and a dwindling number of vocal advocates are blocking these lifesaving policies. However, it’s been widely shown that the broad public supports sensible legislation and policies on firearms. They are demanding action now.

We hope that forums like this one will get the facts out in a way that informs our elected leaders and policymakers and enables them to hear the demands of the public to finally take aggressive actions to stop this preventable epidemic.

Policies That Work to Reduce Gun Violence will be webcast live from 8 a.m. to noon ET on Monday, Sept. 23. Viewers are invited to share questions with panelists by using the #GunPoliciesThatWork hashtag on Twitter. Find out more and add a reminder to your calendar.