Congressional Field Hearing Addresses Gun Violence as Public Health Crisis

“No week goes by that I don’t service the families of two-gun violence victims,” said Spencer Leak, Sr., as read from handwritten notes on a piece of paper.

Leak, owner of Leak and Sons Funeral Home was a witness during a Congressional field hearing hosted at Kennedy-King College on Thursday, Oct. 3.

The purpose of the hearing was to examine gun violence as a public health crisis. Leak was among six witnesses that included Niva Lubin-Johnson, M.D., immediate past president, National Medical Association; Selwyn O. Rogers, Jr. M.D., MPH, chief, Section for Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, and founding director, Trauma Center, University of Chicago Medicine; Ronald Stewart, M.D., chair, Department of Surgery, University of Texas San Antonio Health Science Center; Norman Kerr, director of Violence Prevention, City of Chicago; and Pastor Brenda K. Mitchell, mother of Kenneth D. Mitchell, Jr. The field hearing was hosted by members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee, which included Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL).

Mitchell said she attended the hearing to be a voice for her son, Kenneth, who was killed at a sports bar on Super Bowl weekend.

“I am here as a voice for my community. I am here on behalf of the hundreds of mothers who have had their children torn from their lives by gun violence,” she said. “It has become my passion to help others understand how the trauma of gun violence can affect individuals and communities. I have become an advocate for trauma-informed care, and I will do whatever I can to help others, so they don’t have to experience what I have gone through.”

Rogers said that not only is gun violence a public health issue, it is a public health crisis. “I know that gun violence feels like an overwhelming situation. I have seen the pain with my own eyes, I have cleaned the blood from my own hands,” he said.

And, Rogers said there is need to develop evidence-based solutions. “Beyond that, we have to invest in remedying the social factors such as educational disparities and lack of economic opportunities that are often at the base of gun violence,” he said.

He highlighted violence interruption programs, such as Cure Violence or the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, and added that hospital-based violence intervention programs also have seen success.

Lubin-Johnson called for a multi-faceted approach, which includes a fact sheet on gun violence, as well as a position paper, and the National Medical Association’s endorsement of HR 8. HR 8 expands background checks to include a requirement for every firearm sale.

“We call on the federal government to convene a bipartisan commission to evaluate steps to reduce and eventually eliminate gun violence utilizing a public health approach,” she said.

Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) thanked the witnesses for their testimonies. “I think you’ve really put some wind out our back,” she said. “This is a rich record you have provided for us.”

During a press conference, Rush was joined by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-IL).

“I am convinced if we reduce the presence of guns, we reduce the outcome of violent acts,” Davis said. “We have no alternative except to find better ways to deal with this crisis.”

“As somebody whose district has been decimated by the epidemic of gun violence, it is certainly my intention to use a different approach, rather than focusing our resources and efforts on law enforcement; to have a more inclusive focus on the area of public health,” Rush said.

Rush said normally the federal government is quick to step in with resources when there is a public health epidemic, for example as what happened with HIV/AIDS.

“We’ve never viewed gun violence as an epidemic. I think that’s because for a long time it was very specific to poor communities and communities of color,” Rush said. “It has moved beyond those boundaries. Gun violence is an epidemic without borders. We must view it as an epidemic and a healthcare crisis.”


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