The following statement is from Richard Besser, MD, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, on gun violence as a public health crisis.
We deeply mourn the loss of innocent children and teachers in Uvalde and share in the grief of their families. No child, no parent, no community should ever have to suffer a tragedy of such magnitude.
The words offered today are similar to the words offered after Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, El Paso, Buffalo, and now Uvalde—just a few of the countless places forever scarred by the epidemic of mass shootings. And they will remain just words unless we finally turn our collective grief, devastation, and outrage into action.
Gun violence is a uniquely American plague. In a nation with more guns than people, we experience this violence every hour of every day. The more than 45,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. in 2020—the vast majority of which were suicides and murders—is the highest number on record. This violence has ruptured homes, schools, universities, offices, grocery stores, movie theaters, houses of worship, nightclubs—the list goes on.
For decades, our country has accepted the slaughter of children as the price of living in a society with nearly unlimited access to guns. Some would have us believe that these shootings are inevitable; that we are powerless to stop them; and that the status quo is the best that we can do. That mindset is the very definition of allowing our children to die in vain.
As a Foundation focused on health, we know that achieving a Culture of Health where children can thrive and live up to their full potential is impossible without addressing the scourge of gun deaths that affects too many communities. So often, this scourge impacts communities of color that already suffer disproportionately from the health effects associated with poverty, violence, and discrimination.
Firearms are now the leading cause of death among children in the United States. Every year, more than 3,500 children are shot and killed; more than 15,000 more are shot and injured; and an estimated 3 million are exposed to these shootings in their schools, communities, or homes. The subsequent health impacts of witnessing, and living with, the consequences of such horrors can cascade across generations.
We must end our ongoing inability to enact even the most sensible regulations, broadly supported across the political spectrum, that are proven to save lives. Every gun buyer must undergo a rigorous background check. Extreme risk laws are needed to keep firearms from those who would harm themselves or others. Resurrecting the federal assault weapons ban, even in the face of intransigence in Washington, should remain a national priority until it happens.
There will be more senseless killings—more children alive today who will be the next to die—unless we act. This public health crisis will not end until our nation is no longer comfortable with just words. To that end, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will actively explore how we as an institution can work for change.
About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
For more than 45 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working alongside others to build a national Culture of Health that provides everyone in America a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.