This year, it seemed as if gun violence was constantly at the center of the news cycle. From the devastating Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, to the attack on the Dallas police force to the high-profile killings of Phillando Castille and Alton Sterling and others, it was impossible to ignore.
"Given the events in the hearts and minds of Americans, we felt it was important to take measures to keep people safe and reduce violence," said Pamela Cipriano, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, president of the American Nurses Association (ANA).
It is not just the shootings that make national news that necessitate a call to action. According to Cipriano, in 2015, 36 people died each day from gun violence, excluding suicides. "There are multiple victims: The individual who is harmed, their loved ones and their caregivers."
In June of 2016, ANA released a position statement calling for meaningful gun violence prevention legislation. The statement also advocated for a repeal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ban on gun violence research and urged communities to "address the underlying issues that spawn hate and to stop these unspeakable acts of violence."1
This was not the first time the ANA spoke out for gun control. Cipriano explained, "Given the recent events, we felt it was important to speak out in support of families and communities affected by gun violence."
The New Jersey State Nurses Association echoed the sentiments of their parent organization. Norma Rodgers, BSN, RN, CCRA, president of NJSNA, attended a sit-in at Congressman Frank Pallone's New Jersey office to draw attention to the issue.
This June, the ANA's annual Lobby Day, which NJSNA members attended, happened to coincide with the Democratic legislators' sit-in at the Capitol for tighter gun control measures. "We felt it was time for us to re-energize and take a stand," explained Rodgers. When Pallone hosted another sit-in, he contacted the NJSNA to participate. "It's important for us to show solidarity with legislators and take a stand at the state level," she said.
Rodgers pointed out, "If we don't have stricter gun laws, people will continue to carry assault rifles." She confirmed, "We have the right to bear arms. It's the illegal guns we have a problem with." The ANA concurred. "No one is suggesting to get rid of any law-abiding citizen's right to own guns," remarked Cipriano. We need to keep guns out of the hands of those known to be violent. As a country, we have the responsibility to have safer practices." Those safer practices include appropriate waiting periods before gun purchases.
Nurses are uniquely positioned to take a stand with the issue of stopping gun violence. Cipriano explained, "Our code of ethics speaks to not violating human rights. We are charged to keep people safe and respect their rights."
Rodgers noted, "Nurses are the first ones to see the effects at the bedside." Nurses also continue to care for victims of gun violence through the continuum, from the emergency department to critical care and through to rehabilitation, which can take years.
Nurses themselves are not immune to gun violence. Judith Schmidt, RN, MSN, CCRN, CEO of NJSNA, shared the story of a New Jersey home health nurse shot by the son of a patient. "It's fearful to be a nurse in home health and you don't know who's answering that door," she said. Gun violence has also come to hospitals. According to Becker's Hospital Review, between 2000 and 2011, there were 154 hospital-related shooting incidents, meaning the violence took place either inside the hospital or on its grounds.2
Public Health Violation
Gun violence does not just impact the immediate victims and their families. As the nursing organizations rightly point out, it is a public health crisis.
There are long-term issues with all people affected. There is a wear and tear on caregivers and family members, as well. Rodgers noted, "You have a direct impact on body, mind and soul." In her personal experience, she grew up in Newark, N.J. and experienced riots. She understands the emotional toll of living in fear of gun violence.
Cipriano explained, "A fundamental bedrock of Maslow's hierarchy of needs is safety. There can't be safety when people are worried about gun violence."
Gun violence is a major stressor and everyone handles stress differently, both physiologically and mentally. Certain illness can be exaggerated due to stress.
SEE ALSO: Rapid Trauma Assessment
Another key part of the ANA's statement that also ties into the public health component is an overturn of the ban on gun violence research. That call for repeal is echoed by other medical and healthcare groups. Essentially, the "Dickey Amendment" of a 1996 appropriations bill forbids the CDC from using its funds to advocate or promote gun control. 3
"I was surprised to learn the ban had been in place 20 years," admitted Cipriano. "It ties the hands of the CDC National Center for Injury Prevention."
Schmidt noted, "We need to collect data to find out the core problem in America. Are there significant medical and mental issues causing these problems?" Without hard data, how do we know the impact of gun violence on society? Denying science makes it hard to understand the root cause. The CDC would be the most objective and effective researcher on this issue.
Nurses as Advocates
Nurses don't need to wait for legislation to pass to take action. Changes can start at the grassroots level which is why ANA has officially included gun violence prevention as one of their legislative priorities.
Nurses across the country can visit the website rnaction.org and take action by sending an email to their legislator. "We need to have a dialogue. What do we think is causing gun violence in our community?" asked Cipriano.
"Start locally," advised Rodgers. "Write to mayors. Contact legislators and volunteer to help. Get involved with school boards. Get involved with the board of your hospital that addresses emergency plans."
She continued, "People complain when a bill is passed, but don't get involved to impact policies. The first step is calling or emailing to get your voice heard."
Ultimately, the question remains. "What can we do to prevent our patients from becoming victims of gun violence?" asked Schmidt. "Creating conversations around policies is the first step to ending the violence."
1. American Nurses Association Urges Nurses to Help Stop Gun Violence. June 25, 2016. http://www.nursingworld.org/FunctionalMenuCategories/MediaResources/PressReleases/ANAUrgesNursestoStopGunViolence-PressRelease.html
2. Barnet, S. "Gun Violence in Hospitals. How Much of Threat is it Really?" The Daily Beat Blog. Jan. 21, 2015. http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/healthcare-blog/gun-violence-in-hospitals-how-much-of-a-threat-is-it-really.html
3. Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act, 1997. PUBLIC LAW 104-208. September 30, 1996. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-104publ208/pdf/PLAW-104publ208.pdf
Danielle Bullen Love is on staff at ADVANCE. Contact: email@example.com