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A Multitude of Ways To Prevent Gun Violence
This week’s horrific violence in Michigan is a reminder that gun violence continues to be an epidemic in the US.
 
“Many people become very cynical and fatalistic about a problem like mass shootings,” said Daniel Webster in an episode of Public Health On Call last spring, adding that this is largely because we’re approaching the problem all wrong. 
 
There are a multitude of intervention opportunities, and public health has worked for decades to identify those points and find solutions. Here are just a few:
 
Detect individuals in crisis:
 
In an episode of the podcast last spring, Webster talked with Jillian Peterson and James Densley about The Violence Project, which looks at the life histories of mass shooters to inform solutions. 
 
Among their findings:
  • 80% of the individuals that perpetrate mass shootings are in a state of crisis with noticeable signs such as “increased aggression, or a fracturing from reality, a failure to perform daily tasks.”
  • 50% of shooters are suicidal, which “changes the way we approach them from a prevention standpoint.”
  • Early childhood trauma was common in the lives of mass shooters.
 
These patterns offer intervention points where parents/caregivers, teachers, pediatricians, and others can help link youths in crisis with support systems.
 
Empower schools to do better with crisis intervention:
 
On the podcast, they also discussed the fact that the nation’s approach has largely been to “rehearse, build more secure buildings, or add armed officers,” Peterson said, when the reality is that “the people who do this [school shootings] are insiders, not outsiders.” Instead, schools should be equipped with crisis response teams that connect students with long-term resources.
 
The Adolescent Depression Awareness Program, for example, developed at Hopkins Medicine, trains students, teachers, and staff on depression literacy such as recognizing depression in themselves or someone else, and how to take action. 
 
Holly Wilcox, who works with the program and researches teens in crisis, has found that prevention efforts should start sooner—in middle school or even late elementary school—and not focus solely on individuals who are already in crisis. 
 
Reduce the risk of youths gaining access to guns:
 
“If you look at school shootings, the overwhelming majority are committed by students, and the overwhelming majority of those students have guns that they brought from their homes or a relative’s homes,” Webster said in a Washington Post article.
 
Firearms in general are a leading cause of death for children: 35% of children in the US live in a home with a gun but a mere 55% of all gun owners say they store those guns safely. Research shows that Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws with the strongest penalties show the strongest effects—states with laws requiring that guns be stored in a safe manner have lower rates of adolescent suicide and unintentional shooting deaths.
 
Educating caregivers about proper gun storage and empowering them to speak up if they are concerned about a child’s access to firearms is critical. One place people can learn this in their pediatrician’s office where child safety is an ongoing conversation.
 
“When a patient has a pool, we don’t just say ‘get rid of it’,” said Cass Crifasi in a Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health article. “We advise them about its dangers, to put a fence around it and supervise their kids. We need a similar approach with guns. It should not be so taboo.”
 
Crifasi and School of Medicine colleague Katherine Hoops saw that clinicians needed training to advise patients on gun access, so they developed a module for medical residents and hope to deploy the curricula in clinical settings soon.
 
Additionally, parents with concerns about safe storage of weapons in their homes can look into offsite storage. The Safe Storage Mapping Project in Maryland, for example, shows where community members can find local options for temporary, voluntary firearm storage.
 
Ban large capacity magazines:
 
The weapon used in the Michigan shooting had 15-round magazines which qualifies the gun as an assault weapon, a commonly used gun in mass shootings.  
 
Research from the Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy showed that state laws that ban both the sale and possession of weapons like these are associated with a 49% lower rate of fatal mass shooting events, and a 70% lower rate of individuals killed in shootings. 
 
The 10-year Federal Assault Weapons ban that banned the manufacture and sale of such weapons expired in 2004 and, currently, only seven states and Washington, DC ban guns in this classification. Michigan is not one of them. 
 
Read more about policies to reduce gun violence, stories from survivors, and a history of guns in the US in Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health Magazine’s recent focused issue on gun violence and in the 2017 article, Dismantling the Narrative.

Learn more about the School’s work with gun violence prevention here.

How Colombia Weathered One of the World’s Most Severe COVID-19 Outbreaks

Throughout the pandemic, Colombia has fared better than other South American countries in terms of hospital overload and deaths, due in no small part to its emphasis on testing, contact tracing, and isolating of positive and suspected cases. Hopkins health economist Antonio Trujillo talks with Josh Sharfstein about Colombia’s pandemic strategies, and his research calculating the ROI of testing, tracing, and isolating, both in terms of dollars and lives saved.
LISTEN TO THE PODCAST
First known U.S. Omicron case found in fully vaccinated overseas traveler (Reuters)
The United States identified its first known COVID case caused by the Omicron variant earlier this week. It was discovered in a fully vaccinated patient who traveled to South Africa, as scientists continue to study the risks the new version could pose. Andy Pekosz says it will be “critical” over the next week or so to keep an eye on whether there’s any community transmission from that case.  

A reason for optimism on Omicron: Our immune systems are not blank slates (STAT)
While the concerns around the Omicron variant are understandable, experts in immunology say people need to remember a critical fact: Two years and 8 billion vaccine doses into the pandemic, many immune systems are no longer blank slates when it comes to SARS-CoV-2. Anna Durbin says you will have some protection if you’re vaccinated. Our T cells, which have been trained by vaccine or infection to look for and attack a particular pathogen, in this case SARS-2, may not be enough to prevent infection with the Omicron variant, but should help shut down the disease it triggers, if infection occurs, she says.

Biden’s latest travel ban is “probably a waste of time” (Vox)
The Biden administration’s travel ban on eight countries in southern Africa that went into effect on Monday probably won’t do much to stave off omicron. “[Bans] have generally proved quite ineffective with the more infectious variants like delta, and so will likely do little more than slow the spread of omicron—not prevent it,” Chris Beyrer says. 
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