After 25 Years In The Dark, The CDC Wants To Study The True Toll Of Guns In America Facebook Twitter Flipboard Email September 29, 2021 5:00 AM ET Eric Westervelt
Enlarge this image The conversation around gun violence in the U.S.usually focuses on homicides and mass shootings, and there is little information about the public health, financial, psychological and social toll of nonfatal gun injuries.Nicole Xu for NPR hide caption
toggle caption Nicole Xu for NPR
The conversation around gun violence in the U.S.usually focuses on homicides and mass shootings, and there is little information about the public health, financial, psychological and social toll of nonfatal gun injuries.
Nicole Xu for NPR The uniquely American epidemic of mass killings by firearms grabs most of the attention from the media, politicians and the public.And the big increase in homicides in 2020 and overall violent crime — on the rise across many American cities — also get their share of coverage.
But for decades, the devastating impact of nonfatal firearm injuries in the U.S.has been understudied, undercovered by the media and often overlooked.Political pressure from the gun lobby, regulations and “disordered and highly segmented” collection systems have created chronically unreliable data and information that obscure our true understanding of the public health, financial, psychological and social toll of gun injuries, according to a 2020 study on firearms .
Criminal Justice Collaborative Did Record Gun Sales Cause A Spike In Gun Crime? Researchers Say It’s Complicated We know from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that just over 100 people, on average, are killed by firearms in the U.S.
every day.That includes crimes, suicides, gun accidents and shootings involving law enforcement.
But how often is someone injured by a firearm in America? Why, how and what kinds of weapons are used? What are the underlying causes? What’s the relationship between shooter and victim? What evidence-based, scalable programs work best to help prevent criminal shootings, accidents and suicides? On these and other questions, people in public health, criminal justice, policing and academia admit they lack full and adequate answers.
Business 1st-Time Gun Buyers Help Push Record U.S.Gun Sales Amid String Of Mass Shootings They’re partly in the dark because for more than two decades, the gun lobby and Republican allies in Congress effectively blocked federal funding for firearms research, arguing that such study would undermine the constitutional rights of lawful gun owners.
As a result of that and other factors, experts say, in-depth gun-data collection and sharing in the U.S.is a tangled mess that undermines objective research on programs and policies intended to prevent firearm injury, suicide and criminal violence.
The CDC under Dr.Rochelle Walensky says that will now, finally, start to change.
And for the thousands of Americans affected, survival and recovery from gun injuries look very different for each individual.Here are a few of their stories.
Jennifer Longdon, Phoenix:
Enlarge this image Jennifer Longdon and her fiancé were getting tacos when both were shot by an unknown assailant.Today she’s an Arizona state lawmaker.
Gun violence prevention and disability rights are her top priorities.Michael Ging hide caption
toggle caption Michael Ging
Jennifer Longdon and her fiancé were getting tacos when both were shot by an unknown assailant.Today she’s an Arizona state lawmaker.Gun violence prevention and disability rights are her top priorities.
Michael Ging In 2004, Jennifer Longdon and her then-fiancé, David, had recently returned from vacation and were about to get dinner at a local Mexican-food drive-through.They were grabbing tacos, holding hands and talking wedding details.Out of nowhere, a pickup truck sideswiped their car and someone inside opened fire with a handgun.
Five bullets later, both were near death.Both suffered life-changing injuries.
Longdon’s fiancé was shot three times, including once in the head and the shoulder.
The martial arts instructor and former taekwondo champion suffered severe brain damage.He is medically incapacitated.
“He’s now blind.He has no sense of smell.
His hearing is diminished, and he has a very significant brain injury that impacts how he thinks,” Longdon says.
The last bullet fired from the pickup truck struck Longdon in her back.She is now paralyzed just below her collarbone.She uses a wheelchair.
There was no discernible why to the shooting: no road rage or drug deal gone bad.The shooting was totally random and inexplicable.
No one has ever been arrested; there are currently no suspects despite rewards and an investigation.
“You know, you can theorize a million different ways what was the cause,” Longdon says.”I don’t know.
I don’t know.”
There would be no wedding.They didn’t stay together.Their lives were soon consumed by surgeries, outpatient therapy and adjusting to life with a disability.
Longdon still finds it hard to rethink some details from the night of the shooting.With her survival questionable, her ex-husband brought their then-12-year-old son to her bedside in the hospital trauma room.
Nonfatal injuries do not get the attention that they deserve.
” And there’s my little boy,” she says, her voice cracking.”And he’s trying to comfort me.And his face is so pale and his eyes are so wild.
And he’s stroking my hair that’s just full of blood, telling me it’s going to be OK.And the thing that I always remember is that he was so afraid and so brave.And that happens to children across our country every single day.”
The CDC is now hoping to get a fuller picture of the data and long-neglected details on the impact of daily gun violence.The CDC and the National Institutes of Health, for the first time in nearly a quarter-century, are funding new research on guns to help reduce firearm-related injuries, deaths, crime and suicides.
Among several other gun research projects , the CDC is now providing funding to 10 state health departments so they can start collecting data in near-real time on emergency room nonfatal firearm injuries.
This will allow doctors and epidemiologists to potentially identify trends and craft swift interventions, as they have done to contain the coronavirus pandemic and other national health emergencies.
Longdon was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2018.Today she is the assistant Democratic minority leader in the statehouse.
Among her top state priorities are disability rights and public health-based gun violence prevention.She welcomes the renewal of federal gun research but says it needs to grow far beyond the initial funding.
“Nonfatal injuries do not get the attention that they deserve,” she says.”The best policy comes from having great data.And so that’s the first thing that we need to fix.”