In a heavily-anticipated announcement Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled sweeping proposals to decrease the epidemic of gun violence, including signing “a directive giving law enforcement, schools, mental health professionals and the public health community some of the tools they need.” The proposals included a universal background check for gun consumers, restoration of a ban on military-style assault weapons and a memorandum directing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research the causes of and steps to prevent gun violence.

“This will not happen unless the American people demand it — if parents and teachers, police officers and pastors, hunters and sportsman, responsible gun owners, Americans of every background stand up and say, ‘Enough.’” Obama said in the announcement.

Obama signed 23 executive actions to reduce gun violence that the administration will take, which also include:

  • clarifying that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors from asking patients about guns in their homes;
  • committing to finalizing mental health parity regulations;
  • leading a national dialogue on violence prevention led by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan;
  • providing incentives for schools to hire school resource officers; and
  • developing model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.

The announcement drew swift reaction from health leaders.

“The issue of gun violence is complex and deeply rooted, which is why we must take a comprehensive public health approach to ensuring our families and communities are safe,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of APHA, in a statement. “We must place a renewed emphasis on improving gun injury and violence research and expanding access to mental health services to those who most need it. Today’s proposal represents a real opportunity to make long-lasting progress on reducing gun violence. Congress must also get to work on real action.”

Leaders from other health organizations also weighed in following Wednesday’s actions:

Ethan Rome, executive director of Health Care for America Now: “The clock is ticking. The only way to honor the memory of the victims of mass shootings like Sandy Hook and the 83 people a day whose lives are ended by gun violence is for Congress to immediately adopt this package of meaningful reforms.”

Michael Petit, president of the Every Child Matters Education Fund: “5,740 children and youth were killed by guns in 2008 and 2009. These proposals represent a good first step to saving children’s lives.”

Thomas K. McInerny, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics: “The nation’s pediatricians applaud President Obama for his leadership in the wake of the recent violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The president’s federal policy recommendations [Wednesday] represent the necessary national commitment to addressing gun violence prevention and mental health access in a comprehensive, meaningful way.”

Dilip V. Jeste, president of the American Psychiatric Association: “We are heartened that the administration plans to finalize rules governing mental health parity under the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid. We strongly urge the administration to close loopholes involving so-called ‘non-quantitative treatment limits’ and to ensure that health plans deliver a full scope of mental health services in order to comply with the law.”

Juliet Leftwich, legal director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence: “These constitutionally sound and reasonable steps will provide law enforcement with several important tools to keep our communities safe from gun violence and protect us from dangerous, military-style weapons. We hope that Americans will continue to stand up for the right to be free from the devastating violence that plagues our nation by demanding action from our leaders.”

Wayne W. Lindstrom, president and CEO of Mental Health America: “The president [Wednesday] helped promote greater understanding of mental health when he said, ‘Someone with a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator.’ We believe that as the president and Congress move forward with the proposals announced [Wednesday], individuals with mental health conditions — 57 million Americans — must not be stigmatized or deterred from seeking help and care.”

Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health: “We, of course, understand that no amount of training can guarantee horrific acts won’t occur, but being comfortable with openly talking about mental illness and engaging young adults and their families can increase the likelihood we may be able to help and intervene early.”


Do you think these actions will help prevent gun violence nationwide? Public Health Newswire encourages you to share your thoughts.