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Dan Stier: Public health approach to gun violence needs more funding to succeed

July 29, 2018

Dan Stier

The State Journal recently published an excellent series about gun violence in Madison. As reported in one of the articles, Public Health Madison and Dane County are leading an effort to develop a public health approach to addressing gun violence. The article notes that, “more and more, violence and gun violence are being understood as infectious diseases needing a coordinated, long-term, data-based public health response like those used to fight smoking or HIV/AIDS.”

The public health approach, also used successfully to reduce death and injury from auto accidents, is simple to state but complex in its execution. It involves four steps: 1) Define the problem. 2) Identify risk and protective factors. 3) Develop and test prevention interventions and strategies. 4) Ensure widespread adoption of effective interventions and strategies.

Despite the past success of the public health approach in addressing a variety of health crises, the Institute of Medicine, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a range of other experts have found that federal, state and local public health departments have been hampered due to limited funds and have not been able to adequately carry out many core functions.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi have pledged more funding to support a public health approach to reducing gun violence. They deserve assistance from the federal and state levels. The public health system is chronically underfunded at those levels.

According to the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), federal funding of public health has remained relatively level for years. Federal funds for public health are primarily channeled through the CDC and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Wisconsin last year ranked 42nd among the 50 states in terms of CDC funding per person, and 48th in HRSA funding.

In TFAH’s most recent 50-state ranking of state public health expenditures, the median state expenditure is $35.77 per person. Wisconsin ranks 40th among the 50 states, spending an average of $15.10 per person. By comparison, West Virginia is ranked 6th at $72.50, Alabama is 7th at $59.20, and Arkansas is 12th at $49.

Gun violence cries out for a public health solution. Protection of Wisconsin’s hard-working taxpayers is a focal point of our state’s elected officials. But wouldn’t those citizens benefit from a reduction in gun violence? Don’t citizens want elected officials to be fighting for our fair share of federal dollars? Aren’t they willing to contribute state tax dollars that at least bring us closer to what is spent on public health in West Virginia, Alabama or Arkansas?

Wisconsin taxpayers should call on their elected officials to step up state and federal support for public health strategies like the one proposed to reduce gun violence in Madison.

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