On Our Minds

Welcome to On Our Minds, the latest feature from the Farley Health Policy Center, where we will share commentary on policies affecting health, trends from findings in data and research, and the issues that matter most in our communities. We invite you to share your perspectives and input. Drawing on expertise from our evolving network, we’re eager to work with you, learn from you, build and share policy commentary that brings us together and continues to move us forward.

Gun violence: What are we to do?

Shale Wong, MD


In the U.S., a person is killed by a gun every 14 minutes; 100 people every day including 4 children under the age of 17. The U.S. has already surpassed 200 mass shootings in 2022, 27 of which took place in schools. Most recently, a horrific shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas claimed the lives of 19 fourth-grade children and two adults. With statistics like these and the frequency of media reports, there is a growing normalcy to this violence that is numbing. We defend ourselves from the sheer devastation and also turn our backs feeling incapacitated to respond.

But as health professionals, the action of turning away defeats the oath that we’ve taken to heal and do no harm. While perhaps understandable that an event occurring outside our own neighborhood is beyond our reach for immediate response, we have too frequently been the first responders and we are the community who stands at the ready for the next event. And there will be a next event, especially if we are passively waiting and steadying ourselves rather than taking steps to prevent another tragedy.

I, for one, have grown tired from the tears, nausea and nightmares I experienced after Newtown and will now have to bear with Uvalde, as well as the anger and utter frustration at the lack of Congressional action in the wake of every subsequent tragic event. Rather than malaise, a motivation is being fueled to do everything that can be done to change this course of events. I am a pediatrician, a policy researcher and physician advocate. I am a mom, a mentor and a neighbor. There is much to be done.

The Farley Health Policy Center has published policy recommendations for state and national action on preventing gun violence. These briefs map out how policymakers can protect our youth by strengthening gun safety legislation. In them, we do not lobby for an individual policy change, but rather advocate for improvement by describing a package of policies that present imminently doable actions. These actions can be taken at the state and national levels to increase safety and decrease deaths without impacting lawful gun ownership. 

In the simplest of terms, there are many policy options, each intended to achieve differing outcomes. Banning assault weapons and eliminating sales of bump stocks that weaponize guns into high-capacity firearms are methods of decreasing the potency of mass shootings. Background checks are intended to monitor and limit gun possession from those who may be deemed unsafe to responsibly handle a lethal weapon, thus decreasing suicide and homicide—risk to self or others. Safe storage laws protect curious children from accidental injury and adolescents from high-risk or impulsive behavior, in each case, potential deaths.

Discussing policy solutions with policy makers, community leaders, and other decision makers is just one way to face gun violence head on. It offers an entry point to collaboration and an opportunity to take action. For anyone feeling at a loss for what to do, this is a critical step we all have the power and responsibility to take. 

The Farley Center is positioned on the Anschutz Medical Campus to translate and help researchers bring their data and evidence into actionable steps and to influence policy development. We drill down and analyze data to understand the impact of current policies and better understand the disparities across populations that are a result of structural and systemic inequities. Our mission is to inform evidence-based policy development that promotes integrated care to achieve whole health—physical, behavioral and social. Urgent issues require timely, thoughtful and impactful action. Firearm research and policy is but one social issue that we prioritize. 

Gun violence is only worsening with daily inaction. The power opposing change is strengthened when we are numbed by the normalizing and regularity of shootings and violent events. Every one of us can do more. Together, we are stronger when we channel the science and our experience into doable solutions. It is our collective professional and community responsibility to act. 

This commentary was originally published in CU Medicine Today, November 2019. Revised to reflect events of May 24, 2022.