CDC rolling out studies to tackle ‘epidemic’ of gun violence after Walensky declares ‘now is the time’

After Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky announced last month she would take on the “epidemic” of gun violence, her agency has launched several new initiatives.

“Something has to be done about this,” Walensky told CNN in August, adding: “Now is the time — it’s pedal to the metal time.”

“Firearm violence is a serious public health problem in the United States that impacts the health and safety of Americans,” says a CDC web page on the issue. “Important gaps remain in our knowledge about the problem and ways to prevent it. Addressing these gaps is an important step toward keeping individuals, families, schools, and communities safe from firearm violence and its consequences.”

Walensky appeared to be following President Joe Biden’s lead; in April he declared “a gun violence public health epidemic,” but until now, it wasn’t clear how his administration would respond.

“I swore to the president and to this country that I would protect your health. This is clearly one of those moments, one of those issues that is harming America’s health,” she claimed.

As such, her agency will be spending more than $2.2 million on a “surveillance mechanism” that can track people coming into emergency rooms with nonfatal gunshot wounds in near real-time. The grant money is going to 10 recipients including departments of health in Washington, D.C., Florida, West Virginia, Utah, New Mexico, and Virginia. It’s a three-year program, so the results should be ready by the time Biden is running for president again.

“We don’t even know who enters the emergency department, in most places, as a result of firearm injury — we don’t even know it,” the CDC director said.

The CDC is also spending more than $8 million on gun violence prevention research.

But the data conflict with claims from Biden, Walensky, and other Democrats that gun violence is a “public health epidemic” on the level of a pandemic or other communicable disease.

According to FBI data reported earlier this week by USA Today, there was a spike in the murder rate last year as crime rose across the country — spikes that many blamed on perpetual rioting and other forms of protest violence stemming from George Floyd’s death in late May.

“Although the reported annual increase was dramatic, the total number of homicides last year – 21,570 – did not surpass some stunning totals in the early 1990s, including the nearly 25,000 murders recorded in 1991,” USA Today reported, not delineating how many of those homicides were gun-related.

A more complete dataset was published earlier this week at Statista; the site reports that in 2020, handguns — the most common firearm used in gun-related homicides — resulted in 8,029 murders; unspecified firearms were used in an additional 4,863, for a total of 12,892. “Despite these gruesome facts, the violent crime rate has fallen significantly since 1990, and the United States is much safer than it was in the 1980s and 1990s,” Statista reported.

“Heart disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory diseases were the three leading causes of death in the country in 2018. The rate of death by cancer is significantly higher than the homicide rate in the United States, at 149.1 deaths per 100,000 population compared to a 6.5 homicides per 100,000. Given just 1,739 murders are caused by knife crime, it is fair to say that cancer is a far bigger killer in the U.S.,” the site added.

The Pew Research Center added in 2019 that, according to the CDC’s own data, in 2017, “the most recent year for which complete data is available, 39,773 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S.”

The majority of those deaths were suicides, which has been the case for many years. By comparison, despite there being fewer people on the road due to COVID travel restrictions, traffic deaths rose dramatically in 2020 to 38,680, a 7.2 percent increase from the previous year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A number of media users reacted to Walensky’s push with skepticism and pushback.


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