I am saddened and outraged by the recent unconscionable acts of firearm violence in Uvalde, Buffalo, and Laguna Woods. I last made a statement about firearm violence in March 2018, following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, that took the lives of 14 children and 3 adults. I remember having confidence then that surely — surely — the Parkland tragedy would be the catalyst for meaningful progress toward preventing gun violence in our nation. But mass shootings — as well as other firearm violence — have continued at an unrelenting and unacceptable pace.

To cite a particularly devastating statistic, in 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that firearms had surpassed car accidents as the number one cause of death for children and adolescents. And in the past two weeks, mass shootings have claimed the lives of 10 Black Americans as they shopped at a grocery store, the life of a Taiwanese American worshipping at church, and the lives of 19 young children and two of their teachers at an elementary school. It is undeniable — firearm violence threatens the health and lives of people in the United States every day and in every location — even the most sacred.

Firearm violence is a public health crisis. Our inaction has allowed it to spread through this nation like a deadly virus. We must find the courage — and the creativity — to stop it.

The scientific and health communities have worked hard to address this crisis. While I acknowledge that there has been incremental progress in the past few years — for example, in 2019, Congress agreed to allocate federal funding for gun violence research for the first time since 1996, ending a decades-long funding freeze — it is simply not enough. We need more funding to develop evidence-based approaches to violence prevention and learn from effective strategies in other nations. We need to aggressively pursue research into the mental health drivers of violence and effective interventions. Now is the time to create technologies to track and predict the escalation of violent behaviors. And now is the time to build bridges with industry leaders, educators, policy makers, the media, and others across sectors to achieve more productive discourse and collaborative solutions.

We need to develop scientific evidence to support policy decisions and speak up to advance evidence-based interventions. Beginning in the 1980s, prominent health leaders including NAM members Arthur Kellermann and Mark Rosenberg began to advance influential public health research into gun violence. This research captured the attention of policy makers, the public, and advocates on both sides of the issue, contributing to a fierce debate that unfortunately culminated in the 1996 federal funding freeze. Although the outcome was frustrating, it showed that science — and the voices of medical professionals — can be very powerful.

As scientists and health leaders, we must continue to speak up. We must not let our work be twisted to achieve political ends. We must not allow ourselves to be muzzled. We can and must help to end the national paralysis around firearm violence prevention. Please, let us all — today — step forward to protect our children, families, and communities.

— Victor J. Dzau, MD, President, National Academy of Medicine

Selected Resources on Firearm Violence from the National Academies

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