- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 14, 2012

MILWAUKEE (AP) - In a story Aug. 11 about gun violence as a public health problem, The Associated Press reported erroneously that Daniel Webster of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore said gun ownership sometimes goes up after a shooting in an area. Webster said gun-carrying sometimes increases, not gun ownership.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Doctors target gun violence as a social disease

Is a gun like a virus? After mass shootings, doctors target gun violence as a social disease

By MARILYNN MARCHIONE

AP Chief Medical Writer

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Is a gun like a virus, a car, tobacco or alcohol? Yes, say public health experts, who in the wake of recent mass shootings are calling for a fresh look at gun violence as a social disease.

What we need, they say, is a public health approach to the problem, like the highway safety measures, product changes and driving laws that slashed deaths from car crashes decades ago, even as the number of vehicles on the road rose.

One example: Guardrails are now curved to the ground instead of having sharp metal ends that stick out and pose a hazard in a crash.

“People used to spear themselves and we blamed the drivers for that,” said Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency medicine professor who directs the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis.

It wasn’t enough back then to curb deaths just by trying to make people better drivers, and it isn’t enough now to tackle gun violence by focusing solely on the people doing the shooting, he and other doctors say.

They want a science-based, pragmatic approach based on the reality of a society saturated with guns and seek better ways of preventing harm from them.

The need for a new approach crystallized last Sunday for one of the nation’s leading gun violence experts, Dr. Stephen Hargarten. He found himself treating victims of the Sikh temple shootings at the emergency department he heads in Milwaukee. Seven people were killed, including the gunman, and three were seriously injured.

It happened two weeks after the shooting that killed 12 people and injured 58 at a movie theater in Colorado, and two days before a man pleaded guilty to killing six people and wounding 13, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson, Ariz., last year.

“What I’m struggling with is, is this the new social norm? This is what we’re going to have to live with if we have more personal access to firearms,” said Hargarten, emergency medicine chief at Froedtert Hospital and director of the Injury Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “We have a public health issue to discuss. Do we wait for the next outbreak or is there something we can do to prevent it?”

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