OHSU hosted a roundtable discussion Wednesday, Oct. 4, to raise public awareness and drive solutions to reduce gun violence. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)
Oregon and the nation can reduce the number of injuries and deaths from firearms by adopting a public health approach, similar to measures that have vastly reduced the rate of motor vehicle injuries and deaths in recent decades, panelists said during a roundtable discussion at Oregon Health & Science University.
OHSU hosted a roundtable discussion Wednesday, Oct. 4, to raise public awareness and drive solutions to reduce gun violence.
“This is not a dichotomous gun-rights versus gun-control issue. This gets us nowhere,” said moderator Kathleen Carlson, Ph.D., director of the OHSU Gun Violence Prevention Research Center. “What we mean to say, most simply, is that we’re using multi-layered, multifaceted approaches to understanding the multiple causes of gun violence and finding the solutions for this problem.”
In fact, panelists said the multipronged approach is already paying dividends in reducing firearms-related violence in Portland over the past year.
Panelists highlighted evidence-based strategies, including safe storage of guns in the home, normalizing the discussion of firearm safety with patients in medical settings, and utilizing Oregon’s Extreme Risk Protection Order Act to temporarily remove firearms from people at risk of harming themselves or others. News coverage included stories by KPTV and KGW.
Panelists also discussed an innovative project to reduce the cycle of violence through a hospital-based outreach program.
Roy Moore, co-director of Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center’s Community Care team and its Healing Hurt People program, described his own experience as a gunshot survivor. Today, he directs a team of colleagues with lived experience who are on call to arrive at OHSU or Legacy Emanuel Medical Center within four hours of a gunshot victim arriving for treatment.
Moore and other POIC outreach specialists intercede to calm the urge for retribution and to address the psychological trauma of violence.
“We’re honored to show up in the way that we do. It’s going to take a community approach because we know that hurt people hurt people — but healed people heal people,” he said. “That’s our approach.”
An OHSU trauma surgeon echoed the community benefit of the work of Moore and his colleagues.
“It has been truly game-changing,” said Mackenzie Cook, M.D., associate professor of surgery (trauma, critical care and acute care surgery) in the OHSU School of Medicine.
Cook said the rate of penetrating injuries treated at OHSU has declined slightly over the past couple of years, due in large part to the work of Moore’s organization and other community interventions. In the short term, OHSU and other first responders are training community members in a program called Stop the Bleed, which buys the essential time surgeons need to save lives. Still, Cook noted, even when a patient survives their injury, they often have prolonged physical disability, post-traumatic stress, depression, chronic pain and social repercussions that continue for years — and even across generations of families.
The psychological impact on families is profound for interpersonal violence and for suicides, which account for roughly 80% of deaths from firearms in Oregon.
Michael Zalanka, M.D., a consultation psychiatrist for Legacy Health in Portland, said risk protection orders and voluntary safe storage of firearms can and does reduce the risk of impulsive life-ending decisions.
He cited research involving people who survived suicide attempts: “70% of those individuals made the decision to end their lives within one hour and 24% made the decision within fewer than five minutes.”
In Portland, the rate of firearms violence and resulting homicides spiked well above historical norms beginning in 2020, however Portland police Lt. Ken Duilio said the city has seen a significant drop in shootings over the past year. Duilio said the city has adopted a holistic approach, dubbed Portland Ceasefire, to bring together community organizations, law enforcement and social service agencies to connect with individuals at high risk of committing or being a victim of gun violence.
“There’s been a lot of good work done, and I think we’re starting to see the benefits of it,” Duilio said.
Yet Duilio noted that there is a long way to go to reduce violence to the levels seen prior to 2020. A pediatric trauma surgeon at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital said that he continues to treat a constant stream of firearm injuries in young people transported to OHSU from across the entire region — urban and rural communities alike.
“The impact of gun violence on children and families is a pandemic unto itself,” said Mubeen Jafri, M.D., associate professor of surgery (pediatric surgery) in the OHSU School of Medicine.
Indeed, a new analysis published on Thursday in the journal Pediatrics reveals the rate of firearm fatalities among children under 18 years of age increased by 87% from 2011 through 2021 in the United States. Gunshots have surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death among children.
OHSU Safe Storage Event
The public is invited to learn about different options to safely store firearms and medications, and dispose of expired or unused medications. Safe storage options will be for sale at a discounted price.
Saturday, Oct. 28, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on OHSU’s Marquam Hill campus. Click here for more details.
Jafri relayed the heartbreaking story of a 4-year-old who gained access to a firearm, inadvertently killing their twin. On Oct. 28, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., OHSU Doernbecher’s Tom Sargent Safety Center is hosting an event where parents can receive free cable locks to secure firearms, along with a variety of other firearm storage devices available at a discount.
Safe storage should be a focus for patients of all ages, one panelist pointed out.
Katie Iossi, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine and a general internal medicine primary care physician at the Portland VA Health Care System, said she makes a point of having conversations with her patients about secure storage of their firearms to prevent access by unauthorized individuals including kids or others at high risk of harm. She also teaches medical students, residents and other physicians to raise the issue with their patients.
“Firearm owners generally are really open to discussing that when it is couched as a safety issue,” she said.
Carlson wrapped up the discussion by highlighting the common ground already forged among community organizations, gun owners, faith leaders, educators, law enforcement and medical providers.
“It’s an all-hands-on-deck issue," she said, "and we need and will take all of the help we can get.”