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The science of gun violence

Some things to talk about when we talk about Newtown, mental health, and guns.

Janet Golden, a Rutgers University history professor, specializes in the histories of medicine, childhood and women.

Things to talk about when we talk about Newtown, mental health, and guns:

1. "The vast majority of violence in our society is not perpetuated by persons with serious mental illness."

2. Under the Affordable Care Act, mental health will become more accessible and people with mental health conditions won't be denied coverage because it is a pre-existing condition.

This is a good step, but we must be certain that quality treatment and follow up care is widely available. And we must work with communities and institutions to end the stigma of mental illness. And we need elected officials to step up and ensure that there is adequate funding for the training of mental health professionals and the provision of services.

3. More than 38,000 Americans die by suicide every year, more than half of them using firearms, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

4. Firearms are the most commonly used weapons in domestic homicides. In 2010 intimate partner violence took 1,336 lives and led to thousands of injuries and long-term health problems.

As we begin to talk about preventing events like the mass slaughter in Newtown, Conn., and the daily incidents of lethal violence in our homes and communities, let's learn from the public health data and ask the public health question: How can we prevent these deaths? Let's talk about individuals, families, communities, and access to mental health and family counseling services.

Finally, let's get back to some serious research. As explained in a recent post from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a 1996 amendment to an appropriations bill contained an explicit stipulation that halted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from researching gun violence.

Public health is advanced by knowledge; let's stop pretending that what we don't know won't hurt us. Recent events have made clear that this position is no longer acceptable. We must go back to ensuring that there is a steady and sufficient stream of support for scientific public health research on firearm violence and its prevention.

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