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ANA chief calls for stricter gun laws

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, January 15, 2013

It's hard to fathom that the devastating massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, was a month ago. On one hand, the horror of the event feels fresh, the wound still gaping and unhealed.

On the other hand, our short attention spans and the media's 24-hour news cycle have made other events, from the fiscal cliff debate to the NHL lockout, claim center stage.

Will Newtown fade from the public's memory? Will the issues and debates surrounding that day and its aftermath get drowned out by whatever else is grabbing our attention at the moment?

There's one group that's determined to ensure that the answer to that question is a loud, resounding "no." That group is nurses.

"This is a conversation that needs to continue," ANA president Karen Daley told me over the phone last week. She pledged that nursing groups will continue to tackle gun control head on, both now and in the coming months. "Nurses across the country understand the toll of this public health issue."

In the days following the Newtown shooting, the ANA and 34 other nursing organizations across the country sent a joint letter to President Obama, congressional leaders, and leaders of the National Governors Association and The United States Conference of Mayors.

The groups called on policymakers to restore access to mental health services for individuals and families; to increase students' access to nurses and mental health professionals from the elementary school level through college; and to ban assault weapons and enact other meaningful gun control reforms.

According to Daley, the issue of gun control isn't necessarily a political one.

"This is a public health issue," she says. "This is a safety issue for families."

She says nurses regularly counsel patients about everything from the importance of wearing seatbelts and sunscreen to quitting smoking. Moreover, nursing groups often weigh in on issues that affect the health of our society.

"Gun violence cannot fall outside that," she says.

The call to action is two-fold, addressing both access to mental health services and guns. As funding for mental health services has undergone dramatic cuts, guns have become easier than ever to get.

Not surprisingly, gun violence is up, too. Last year was a particularly deadly one. By the Washington Post's count, there were 14 mass shootings in the United States in 2012, including two of the worst the country has ever seen.

"If that's not an epidemic..." Daley says, her voice trailing off. "Gun violence in general is potentially threatening to outnumber auto accidents in terms of morbidity."

The outrage in Daley's voice was palpable as she talked about the day of the Newtown shooting. "People have the ability to indiscriminately just kill and mow down," she said. "That we allow that kind of military-style weaponry in the public domain is just unacceptable."

Daley was among the stakeholders invited to the White House as Vice President Biden developed the gun control proposal that he'll unveil to the public and to the president this week.

On Monday, President Obama again said that he'd "vigorously pursue" the proposal's recommendations and work toward an assault weapon ban.

Daley pledged that nurses will be on the forefront of that work.

"People trust us to do the right thing. We do understand that this is about public health and safety," she says. "As a profession we have an obligation to speak up...certainly we believe that this is a critically important time and it is a tipping point."

Moreover, she says that the nursing community will "stay on top of this," even if the public's memory fades.

"We'll be staying active in this conversation as congress takes it on," she says. "ANA and other leaders within the nursing community will be front and center...if time does temper their memory of the horrific nature of this event, we'll be there to remind them."

Source: HealthLeaders Media