Gun violence and public health: Governor-elect Shapiro speaks at American Health Summit

Governor-elect Josh Shapiro highlighted gun violence and its effect on young people during the 5th annual Bloomberg American Health Summit in Philadelphia Tuesday.

A close-up of Josh Shapiro speaking.

Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania speaks during his first Capitol news conference after the election, Nov. 16, 2022, in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)

Working on a solution to gun violence and want to share it? Get in touch with gun violence prevention reporters Sammy Caiola and Sam Searles.

The 5th Annual Bloomberg American Health Summit began Tuesday morning.  The conference is being divided into short panels on various public health issues. Topics include the spread of misinformation, the opioid crisis, obesity, and gun violence.

Mike Bloomberg began the plenary with new statistics on American healthcare. The former Mayor of New York City cited new studies showing the US is falling behind other developed countries in terms of life expectancy.

“You’ve heard of American exceptionalism, the idea that America is unlike any other nation?” Bloomberg asked the crowd. “There’s also, sadly, a dark side of American exceptionalism, and it’s staring us right in the face.”

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“We have a gun homicide rate twenty-six times higher than that of other high-income countries. Twenty-six times! That certainly is exceptional,” he said.

Next to the stage was Governor-elect Josh Shapiro.

“[Mr. Bloomberg and I] have both visited too many grieving families who’ve lost a loved one to gun violence or met too many children who live every day with the trauma of seeing gun violence in their communities,” Shapiro said. “I believe that the gun violence epidemic should be considered a public health crisis in this country.”

During Shapiro’s speech, he shared a story from a recent visit to a class of fourth and fifth graders.

“The teacher asked if I would stick around for just a second. She looked at the class and said… ‘Tell the Attorney General If you’ve ever heard gunshots.’ Every single hand went up in that classroom,” he said. “Then, she asked the children, ‘do you know someone who’s been shot?’ Nearly 75% of the kids raised their hands.”

He made a direct correlation between gun violence, mental health, and poor performance in schools.

“We can’t just expect [students] to go to school and learn if we’re not treating the trauma that they’re dealing with in their communities day in and day out,” he said. “We also have to recognize that these kids are suffering and they need our help.”

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Shapiro also discussed access to clean resources, ending the opioid epidemic, and bolstering schools by improving infrastructure.

The American Health Summit ends Wednesday – the panels are available to the public via streaming.

If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources online.

Sam Searles is a Report for America corps member covering gun violence and prevention for WHYY News.

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