Calling for research, education and evidence-based policy to confront the “public health crisis of the firearm epidemic” in the United States, more than 80 Harvard Medical School students and colleagues rallied on the steps of Gordon Hall on the HMS Quadrangle on Sept. 24.
“As medical students and future health care professionals, we will be charged with taking care of victims, we will face firsthand the disastrous damage firearms can do to the human body,” said Maahika Srinivasan, one of the students who organized the Longwood rally.
“With each mass shooting covered in the news, we watch, wondering what we can do to prevent such loss of life,” Srinivasan said.
The event was one of a series of gatherings of medical students, nursing students and health care providers that took place across the nation this month coordinated by SAFE (Scrubs Addressing the Firearms Epidemic), a group of health care students and providers who say they are committed to using the tools of modern medicine and public health to protect their patients from health threats posed by firearms.
At HMS, students shared statistics and resources from peer-reviewed research about the toll that gun violence takes on people’s lives, noting that more than 30,000 people die of gunshot wounds each year in the United States and 75,000 more are injured.
To show the magnitude of the threat, the students said these figures mean more Americans die from firearms each year than from motor vehicle accidents. They said the total death toll from the West African Ebola outbreak of 2014-2016 was one-third the number of lives lost from firearms in a single year in the U.S.
“We can’t just watch any longer,” said Cathy Wu, another student member of the organizing team. “It’s time for us to take action.”
The students said there is a need for additional educational resources to help providers address the epidemiology of gun violence, as well as more information about the physical and psychological impact of firearms on the bodies and minds of people and communities affected by gun violence.
They also pointed out that federal rules limit funding for research into the causes of and solutions to firearm mortality, which they said stifles informed debate and limits the abilities of physicians and public health agencies to combat the epidemic.
To address the damage done by firearms, the students called for more education and research to help physicians and policy makers make more well-informed decisions and do more to protect the lives of patients.
Specifically, they called for evidence-based policy that “promotes responsible gun ownership while respecting the Second Amendment,” including enacting and enforcing universal background checks, a standardized, mandatory waiting period for all firearm purchases and a comprehensive policy that prevents intimate-partner violence felons from obtaining or possessing firearms.
The students said they are planning more events on campus and working to coordinate activities with other schools in the area.
Fidencio Saldaña, HMS dean for students, and Edward Hundert, HMS dean for medical education, attended the event and voiced their support.
“I am so inspired by our students to join in the growing nationwide efforts to identify gun violence as the public health issue it is and to advocate for increased research and education to address the epidemic of firearm violence in this country,” Hundert said.