Mass shootings: how can we prevent them?

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By Michaela Blackmon
Special to the Opelika Observer

In the recent news, one can read or hear about terrorist threats happening at local schools and mass shootings throughout the United States.
This could happen here, so do you know how mass shootings impact your local community? Are mass shootings a healthcare policy problem? Should the community be concerned with this problem? If it is the government’s responsibility to promote and protect the public’s health, then I feel the answer is yes, it is a healthcare policy problem and the community should be concerned. I’m not sure about you, but I feel it is important to understand why things exist in this world and not just accept it because it’s been done that way for a decade. Yes, one might say I was that annoying child asking “why” repeatedly when I didn’t understand things. Consequently, I began researching this issue, and most individuals would be surprised to discover that our community has already been impacted by mass shootings.
To understand the impact, one must understand what health policy is.
So, to simplify, it is the movements taken by the governments (national, state and local) to improve the public’s health. This means it is not just one single movement but requires an assortment of legislative and regulatory efforts to ensure a safe environment. What is healthcare policy? “Healthcare policy is the part of health policy that deals with the organization, financing and delivery of healthcare services” (WHO).
Henceforth, healthcare policy includes training of medical professionals, overseeing safety of drugs and medical devices, administering public programs like Medicare and regulating private health insurance.
Wow, that is a lot of information to digest, but let’s break it down more. Training of medical professionals (first responders, paramedics, nurses, physicians, etc.) and law enforcement that would need to respond to the aftermath of a mass shooting or an act of terrorism has already started in the community.
These individuals have defined roles within their scope of care (i.e., licensing boards of the state) and training may vary depending on those factors. This places the burden on both state and private agencies to offer training at various times and levels for individuals. It is key to understand this training is on a voluntary basis, as it is not required by the government but is vital to the community.
Preparedness and training include various factors with key individuals and leaders such as, but not limited to the following: risk assessment of community, resource management, organizational deployment, communications, incident management, competencies for training, equipment or supply needs, accessing and quality control of equipment, readiness of facilities, recovery, community education and financing.
The goal should be for the local community to work together utilizing resources (i.e., stakeholders) in attempts to either prevent or prepare for such events.
The impacted stakeholders vary from community members, medical professionals, hospitals, insurance companies, and governmental agencies. Each of these stakeholders are ultimately impacted from a financial standpoint.
Treating a mass shooting incident requires a different emergency response approach than other scenarios with mass casualties or injuries from a bus crash or tornado disaster.
Improvements in emergency responses for mass shootings occurs by gathering and analyzing data. Unfortunately, because mass shootings are not recognized by the federal government under any healthcare policy, there is no system in place to gather and analyze data.
Local schools face the dilemma of implementing preventative measures which requires budgeting for various items from extra security systems, a local resource officer, and therapist and/or social worker trained to teach students how to handle stress and trauma of daily life. Moreover, schools would need to teach staff how to recognize and identify signs of students or individuals in danger of harm to themselves or others.
Most of the conceivable healthcare policy issues revolve around preventative measures.
Crucial information to recognize is when there is no mandated healthcare policy, funding comes from either the state or local level and not the federal government. Moreover, there is no consistent regulation to ensure the safety of individuals across the US. Ok, just ponder the federal government mandates the Federal Emergency Management Administration and organizes responses to natural and man-made disasters, which includes confirming the readiness of both state and local healthcare providers. Based on my research, I could not find where mass shootings are covered under any current healthcare policy. “It is challenging to compare terrorism with mass shootings, but both are rare yet recurring, terrifying and to a considerable extent preventable acts of mass destruction” (Zhang). Policymakers invested millions to prevent the U.S. from another terrorist attack and to promote and to protect the public’s health.
Established healthcare policies related to acts of terrorism dictate that posting terrorist threats on social media result in an arrest and why we must remove our shoes in order to fly.
“There is a move to reverse a 22-year-old restriction on how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can fund gun-related research – which has essentially created a situation in which policymakers have very little up-to-date data about what causes gun violence or how it can be prevented or reduced. This restriction came from the Dickey Amendment, which suppressed the CDC’s research on gun violence” (Cunningham). Most of the healthcare policies in place today are based on data collection and analysis.
There just seems to be that fine political line when it comes to guns in the U.S. that has stopped the federal government from funding such research or mandating policies.
In my opinion, a community goal should be to improve public discussions and support the development of fair and equal healthcare policies related to mass shootings just as the federal government has done for terrorism.
The U.S. government currently does not equally prioritize action and/or investment with anomalous violence. My personal view is if it’s the government’s obligation to promote and to protect the public’s health, then a healthcare policy should be mandated by the federal government. I am not proclaiming that mass shootings have caused the same devastation of 9/11 and being raised in the South I understand the importance of firearms when it comes to providing food and security for the family. I believe that policies can be established without taking constitutional rights away from law abiding individuals. However, I do question how much more blood will be shed before policymakers take essential steps to evaluate mass shootings with data collection and make healthcare policy decrees that would protect the public’s health.
I believe that healthcare policy should start with instituting evidence- based gun control measures.
To conclude, I would like to commend our local community for taking preventative measures and valuing the significance of mass shootings.

Works Cited:

Cunningham, Paige Winfield. “The Health 202: Gun Violence Research by the Government Hasn’t Been Funded in Two Decades. But That May Soon Change.” The Washington Post, WP Company LLC, 22 Feb. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/.
Zhang, Sarah. “Why Can’t the U.S. Treat Gun Violence as a Public-Health Problem?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 15 Feb. 2018,
www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/02/gun-violence- public-health/553430/.
“Health Policy.” WHO, World Health Organization, www.who.int/topics/health_policy/en.
Blackmon is a graduate student at Auburn University-Montgomery in the MBA program.

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