Northwell Health president and CEO Michael J. Dowling, seen on...

Northwell Health president and CEO Michael J. Dowling, seen on April 4, called gun violence in the United States "a health care epidemic." Credit: Howard Schnapp

The CEO of Long Island’s largest health system called gun violence in the United States "a health care epidemic."

Michael J. Dowling, president and chief executive of Northwell Health, said in a phone interview that laws should be passed that make it harder for Americans with mental health issues to buy a gun.

“There is no perfect solution to any of this, but to have anyone with certain depression tendencies to be able to buy a gun doesn’t make sense,” Dowling said Thursday, a day before another U.S. mass shooting, which killed 10 in Santa Fe, Texas. “Screening should be unbelievably strengthened.”

The American Public Health Association and American Association of Nurse Practitioners have also called gun violence an American health crisis, while other health care organizations have called for more restrictions on who can purchase a firearm.

About 38,000 Americans are killed by gun violence annually, according to the American Public Health Association, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group.

“The issue of gun violence is complex and deeply rooted in our culture, which is why we must take a public health approach to ensuring our families and communities are safe,” the association wrote in a statement. “Ongoing work is needed to ensure firearms do not fall into the wrong hands.” 

The National Rifle Association has pushed back on claims that gun violence is a health care issue.

“Gun control supporters in the public health field claim that gun violence is an epidemic, but gun violence is alien to most people’s experiences and the nation’s murder rate has been cut by more than half since 1991, and in 2013 fell to perhaps an all-time low, as Americans’ firearm acquisitions have soared,” the NRA wrote in a statement.

David Burnett, a law student at the University of Akron who is also a registered nurse in northeast Ohio and a member of the NRA, added it would be wrong to take away a person’s right to bear arms based only on being on anti-depression medicine.

“Depression is increasingly being diagnosed, and I don’t view it as a reason alone to take away a person’s right to defend themselves,” he said. “A single mom with two kids who has just gotten out of an abusive relationship should be able to defend herself if the ex-husband comes after her. If she is on antidepressant medicine for a short time, she should still be allowed to protect her family.”

Dowling said better controls would also cut down on suicides. About 22,000 gun deaths involved people who took their own lives, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which added that about half of suicide deaths are from firearms.

“We should be able to prevent this,” Dowling said.


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