Gun violence in Oregon: ‘Tremendous health problem’


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Doctors, surgeons and health professionals are taking a stance on firearm violence and deaths as a huge health problem.

Health professionals want to move beyond just treating gun injuries — to preventing them in the first place.

“We’re taking care of these people and we’re treating serious injuries every day,” Dr. Martin Schreiber with OHSU said. “This is a tremendous health problem.”

However, in order to prevent gun injuries, society first needs to find more constructive ways to talk about guns.

“People tend to retreat to their corners,” Dwight Holton with Lines for Life said. “It becomes a political issue — a conservative versus liberal issue or Republican versus Democrat issue. That doesn’t get us anywhere.”

In recent years, there has been a handful of gun safety measures passed in Oregon, including on background checks, extreme risk protection orders and closing loopholes for domestic violence abusers. Those changes, according to officials, have helped reduce deaths and injuries.

But, health officials still say Oregon’s gun deaths are higher than the national average. Between 2010 and 2014, nearly 2,300 residents died from gun injuries. The majority of those deaths were by suicide.

“Sixty percent of men who die by suicide use a firearm, so it’s something we need to get our hands around and figure out in trying to prevent suicide — how we can address the lethality of firearms in taking people’s lives,” Holton said.

On Tuesday morning, experts explained ways to separate individuals from their means of death is a huge life-saving measure.

But it creates the question: How do we do that without making gun safety a polarizing topic?

According to doctors, they need funding for research to find evidence for viable policies and engaging with the community to meet in the middle.

Dr. Kathleen Carlson with OHSU School of Public Health said, “Partner with gun owners to find solutions to test and evaluate the solutions so we can have data that says what works and what doesn’t work.”

Through education, engineering and enforcement, health professionals see a path toward societal and behavioral change.

Prevention on gun injuries and deaths

A public health approach to gun violence prevention needs to emphasize primary prevention, a focus on the community, a wide range of policies and collaboration with diverse interest groups.

“Let’s not look at our patients as people who might get injured, but as people who might have been at risk five years ago when we started seeing them or maybe experienced trauma in their early lives, may have access to firearms or their children or have to firearms,” Dr. Carlson said.

If you or someone you know is in distress or thinking about suicide, please call Lines for Life at 800.273.8255. It’s a 24/7 suicide helpline that de-escalates more than 95% of their crisis calls.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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