Gun violence is a public health issue for which something can be done

Dr. Webster presents at the Flanigan Lecture at St. Joseph Medical Center on August 10.

Lance Stell, PhD, Terry Rosell, PhD, DMin, and Daniel Webster, ScD, MPH

Terry Rosell, PhD, DMin

Daniel Webster, ScD, MPH: “A Path Forward for Reducing Gun Violence in America”

Rex Archer, MD: “Kansas City Anti-Violence Projects”

Rashid Junaid: “Kansas City Anti-Violence Projects”

Kim Templeton, MD: “Perspectives from the American Medical Women’s Association”

Lecture Hall at KCUMB

Robert Winfield, MD: “Gun Violence and Emergency Medicine”

Carla Keirns, MD, PhD: “A Clinical/Historical Perspective on Conceal and Carry in Medical Settings”

Denise Dowd, MD and Judy Sherry: “Pediatric Medicine Policy & Perspective on Gun Violence”

Jeanne Hoeft, MDiv, PhD: “Rural & Religious Perspectives on Gun Violence”


Dallas. Baton Rouge. Orlando. San Bernadino. Ferguson.

When city names become synonymous with acts of gun violence, we need to talk.

This is how the Center for Practical Bioethics introduced the 22nd annual Rosemary Flanigan Lecture and Symposium held August 10-11, 2016 in Kansas City. Initially, we started with just three city names in that header. Then several more incidents of gun violence erupted on the national stage, and Dallas and Baton Rouge were added. There were others, but the list was already too long. The point had been made. In this nation, this state, this city, we need to talk about guns, public health, and ethics.

Regular and recent occasions of gun-related atrocities may have the effect of shutting down reasonable conversation due to traumatization, victimization, terrorism (real or potential) and tragic human loss. Yet there remains significant controversy regarding what is going on and what ought to be done about guns in American society.

The Center, collaboratively with our co-sponsors, embraces controversy with ethics conversation carried out civilly, grounded in facts. We invited national and regional experts–from science, philosophy, medicine, public health, and theology–to dialogue on the matter of guns and public health.

Hundreds of us did so over two days in three forums plus a KCUR radio interview, with keynoter, Daniel Webster, ScD, MPH. Dr. Webster is internationally known and respected as a leading social scientist working to understand gun violence from a public health perspective. He is director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research

Webster and colleagues recently published a statistical analysis of gun-related deaths in Missouri following the legislature’s 2007 repeal of laws requiring a permit for all gun purchases. (Webster, et al., “Effects of the Repeal of Missouri’s Handgun Purchaser Licensing Law on Homicides,” Journal of Urban Health, 14 April 2014). Webster’s research shows subsequent dramatic increases in suicide, homicide, and injury of police officers—all involving the use of firearms, and statistically correlated to the legislative repeal. It appears that many dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Missouri lives have been lost each year as a direct result of this action in Jefferson City. (See Permit to Purchase Licensing for Handguns and Effects of changes in permit-to-purchase handgun laws in Connecticut and Missouri on suicide rates)

When such tragedy happens in our state, with no end in sight, it is definitely time to talk—but also to take action.

On the morning of August 10th, nearly 300 medical students were joined by numerous outside guests (and others on a live-stream feed) for a free lecture by Dr. Webster at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences. This was the kick-off event in a KCU series of eight public and classroom lectures pertaining to “Current Issues in Bioethics.” That evening, nearly 200 people were in attendance at the 22nd annual Flanigan Lecture and reception, co-hosted by St. Joseph Medical Center. Dr. Webster spoke there about public health models for reducing gun violence.

Given the controversy around this topic, it seemed fitting to invite other speakers with diverse perspectives for a full day symposium on “Gun Violence as a Public Health Issue.” Returning to KCU on August 11th, nearly 100 participants gathered to listen to expert opinions, with opportunity to question and converse, or even argue. On the program, besides Dr. Webster, were five physicians, a philosopher, a theologian, and two community organizers. They did not all agree, but we all talked, listened, and pondered options.

What we learned is that gun violence is indeed a public health issue. As such, and like other matters pertaining to health, there are tangible options for reducing gun violence and unnecessary deaths. In Missouri, social science research demonstrates one that is all too obvious. Hundreds of lives might be spared if legislators here would stop talking perhaps, so as to read or just listen, and then undo the legislative action that clearly created a public health disaster.


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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at jsykes@hcfgkc.org.

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