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    Opinion: Youth gun offenses up 200% in Buncombe; gun violence is public health problem

    By Dr. Richard Needleman,

    27 days ago

    According to the N.C. Department of Public Safety, firearms are the leading cause of injury-related death of children and young people in North Carolina. Last year, Gov. Roy Cooper announced the Secure All Firearms Effectively initiative to encourage North Carolinians to take action to safely store their firearms to save lives. This executive order is meant to deter children from gaining access to firearms from the home and through theft from vehicles.

    Gun thefts have increased in North Carolina. More than 80% of teenage suicides by firearm in the United States were by a gun belonging to a family member. According to a national survey in 2021, more than half of loaded firearms at home were unlocked. Gun violence is a public health problem. We can choose its future on Election Day.

    On June 7, Buncombe County government partnered with nine organizations for a violence prevention event at Pack Square Park to commemorate Gun Violence Awareness Day and the North Carolina S.A.F.E. Week of Action. Attendees were encouraged to wear orange to show their support for gun safety and for the prevention of gun violence. There were a variety of events including live music, speakers, food trucks and free gun safety locks, as the kick-off event for a summer of peace.

    The number of Buncombe County youth under 18 charged with firearm offenses has increased from 10 to 30 from 2022 to 2023. The county and its partners feel that community wide collaboration and proactive measures are necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of its youth.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there were almost 50,000 firearm-related deaths in the United States in 2022. More than one-half of these deaths were suicides and the rest were homicides. Firearm-related injuries were the leading cause of death in children and teenagers ages 1-19 and among the top five leading causes of death for people ages 1-44. In 2023, there were 51 deaths of Buncombe County residents due to guns. Americans sustain more nonfatal firearm-related injuries than deaths.

    The CDC has identified groups that are impacted by higher firearm violence and suicide rates. Men account for almost 90% of the firearm-related deaths and firearm injuries. Adults aged 75 and older and non-Hispanic white persons have higher suicide rates. Homicide rates are highest among teens and young adults and Black, Hispanic, and Native American racial-ethnic groups. The CDC feels that it is important to address the social and structural conditions that are associated with firearm-related violence.

    Extreme risk protection orders are associated with a reduced risk of suicide, according to Dr. April Zeoli, Associate Professor of Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan. These are commonly referred to as “red flag” laws. A red flag law is a gun law, at the state level, that restricts the ability of people to purchase or possess firearms if the person is a danger to themselves or others. This process can be initiated by law enforcement or family members and is authorized by a state court.

    Gun laws in the U.S. vary by state. North Carolina does not have a red flag law. Our state does not require background checks for private sales, although firearms dealers must contact the FBI to process the background check as required by federal law. The federal minimal age to purchase long guns is 18. The N.C. minimal age to purchase handguns is 18. North Carolina does not have any firearm storage laws. If a state resident has been found by a court to have committed an act of domestic violence, the court may grant a protective order and stipulate that this person cannot purchase or possess a firearm for a specified period of time

    Here are some ways to practice safe storage by securing firearms effectively:

    • Secure a gun at home with a locking device like a cable lock, trigger lock, gun safe, lockbox or gun case.
    • Secure a gun in a vehicle by locking the vehicle and securing the firearm with a locking device

    A comprehensive approach to prevent gun violence includes safe gun storage, public education, and partnerships for fewer firearm injuries and deaths and to reduce the number of firearm offenses.

    According to a recent county news release, “By prioritizing violence prevention efforts and promoting responsible firearm ownership, we can create a safer environment for all residents in Buncombe County.”

    Vote for a healthy America on Nov. 5!

    Richard Needleman, MD, MPH, is a retired orthopedic surgeon and member of Carolina Advocates for Climate, Health and Equity.

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