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Originally published January 9, 2013 at 8:00 PM | Page modified January 10, 2013 at 6:25 AM

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Guns: What 3 doctors order

Treat gun violence like a public-health issue, with emphasis on prevention.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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"Curbing Gun Violence:

Lessons From Public Health Successes": bit.ly/TXXbwb

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Three health experts have a sensible idea for reducing gun violence — treat it like a public-health issue.

One big advantage of that approach is that it doesn't require inventing new strategies, just borrowing ones that already have proved effective against other dangers and tweaking them a bit.

Smoking, which was once taken for granted, was reduced from 43 percent of American adults in 1966 to 19 percent in 2010. And a set of polices reduced automobile death rates per mile by more than 90 percent.

I remember when people railed against seat belts, and when smoking was cool. We didn't just change strategies and improve health outcomes, America also changed its culture.

There are myriad efforts to reduce gun violence in the aftermath of the slaughter in Newtown, Conn.

Tuesday, on the anniversary of another mass shooting, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, announced the creation of a political-action committee to address gun violence.

Vice President Joe Biden was scheduled to meet with gun-owner groups Thursday in his role as point person for crafting the administration's response to gun violence.

Legislatures, including our own, are taking up the issue.

Seattle and King County officials announced a new gun-buyback program, co-chaired by four former Seattle mayors.

Gun-buyback programs aren't very effective at stopping violence, but they do have symbolic value. They draw attention and make a statement about guns and violence and community norms. That's not a bad place to start.

The three doctors make a good case for where we should go from there. Dariush Mozaffarian, David Hemenway and David S. Ludwig, all affiliated with Harvard University, published their ideas this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association online edition. They write: "Each year in the United States, more than 30,000 individuals are killed by guns (homicides, suicides, and unintentional fatalities)."

While 26 people were killed in Newtown, the daily average is 85 gun deaths around the country, and each year there are more gun homicide deaths alone in the U.S. than all the deaths of U.S. forces in the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The following are a few of their strategies toward a cure.

Taxation helped reduce smoking. A substantial tax on all firearms and ammunition could, as in the case of cigarettes, help fund a "public-awareness campaign to increase gun safety, reduce gun violence, and assist in recognition of at-risk individuals; and stronger enforcement of existing gun laws."

Also, they suggest an initiative, "to modify sociocultural norms." They said, "A generation ago, many popular movie heroes smoked. Today, many movie heroes shoot at other people." A culture-changing "campaign could equate gun violence with weakness, irrationality, and cowardice."

The doctors also suggest considering safety changes, as in the effort to reduce accidental poisonings, especially those involving children. Over 20 years of education, product changes and access controls, childhood poisoning deaths dropped 75 percent.

And their suggestions included many borrowings from ongoing efforts to reduce automobile deaths, among them licensing with periodic renewal, stricter penalties for violating gun-safety and gun-violence laws, minimum age requirements, built-in safety features and periodic inspections of firearms.

Each strategy would need some adjustment to address gun violence, but the ideas are sound.

We need ways to address gun violence that aren't just reactive, that aren't just replays of the usual political theater.

Making the nation healthier through proven practices is completely sensible.

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday.

Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

Twitter @jerrylarge.

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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