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Assessing the Relationship Between Gun Violence and Health Equity


By Diana Lee, MD


Odessa Chambliss Center for Health Equity

Bethune-Cookman University

By February 2018, the United States had 35 mass shootings, 8641 incidents of gun violence, and 2327 deaths. 90 children and 444 teenagers died, and by the time this article is published the statistics will be different, much larger. 

Gun violence has become a crucial national problem that negatively affects health equity in the United States. The American Medical Association (AMA) declared U.S. gun violence a public health crisis requiring a comprehensive public health response and solution. While we debate whether we need better gun control laws, or a more efficient way to implement current laws, Americans at large are affected by shootings whether it is at a mass shooting or an individual being shot. No other country has the gun violence statistics that the United States has acquired in these last years. 

What is health equity?

Health equity is the right that every individual has to a fair opportunity to live a long, and healthy life. The implication is that health should not be compromised or disadvantaged because of an individual’s or population group's race, ethnicity, gender, income, sexual orientation, neighborhood or other social condition. Health equity depends on creating fair opportunities for health and eliminating gaps in health outcomes between different social groups. It also requires that public health professionals look for solutions outside of the health care system, such as in the transportation or housing sectors, to improve the opportunities for health in communities. 

The ultimate goal is to reduce and eliminate disparities in health and achieving the highest possible standard of health for all people while providing special attention to the needs of those at greatest risk of poor health, based on social conditions. 

The three main components of health equity, as identified by the World Health Organization, are: social determinants of health, health disparities and social justice. Gun violence is a problem that actually affects each component of health equity and creates negative health outcomes nationwide. 

Social Determinants of Health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities - the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries, states, cities or any communities.

A disproportionate number of gun homicides occur in urban areas. Conversely, a disproportionate number of firearm suicides occur in rural - compared with urban- areas. Although they are highly publicized, less than two percent of the homicides of children occur in schools.

Health Disparity is a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with economic, social, or environmental disadvantage. Health disparities adversely affect groups of people who have systematically experienced greater social or economic obstacles to health based on their racial or ethnic group, religion, socioeconomic -status, gender, age, or mental health; cognitive, sensory, or physical disability; sexual orientation or gender identity; geographic location; or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion.

 Gun-related homicides take the lives of black men with appalling consistency.  Every day in the United States, more than 15 black men are killed by guns. Almost 81,000 black men were murdered with firearms between 2001 and 2014, compared to 29,000 non-Hispanic white men, without including those shot by police. 

Social Justice is the equal distribution of resources and opportunities, in which outside factors that categorize people are irrelevant. Social justice demands that we not only seek to avoid future tragedies on behalf of potential victims, but also on behalf of potential perpetrators.  Social justice is to prevent mentally unstable individuals from acquiring a gun, avoiding the means to commit a crime and earn just punishment, when they in fact, need medical care. It is protecting citizens from violence that creates a physical and mental burden, and perhaps even an early death.

What can we do to respond to the shootings in Florida and other states? We can learn about the current gun control laws and decide what it is that we believe in: do we need to change the present laws, or a more efficient way to implement them?

We can take actions that make our communities safer. Let’s pay attention to our loved ones, neighbors, co-workers and watch for signs that they might be at risk of harming somebody, or being harmed from guns. Let’s protect people who are vulnerable to discrimination because of their racial or ethnic group, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identification. 

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s “Culture of Health” initiative aims for a society in which “Every person has an equal opportunity to live the healthiest life they can.”  Every American can live by this motto and pursue not only their own happiness and good health, but ensure that as a society we provide health equity among all.



Join the Odessa Center for Health Equity for our 8th Annual Quality of Life Fund, Faith and Fellowship Luncheon on Saturday, May 19, 2018, and help us to continue to improve the quality of life in our community.

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About Bethune Cookman University:

Founded in 1904 by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) today sustains her legacy of faith, scholarship and service through its relationship with the United Methodist Church and its commitment to academic excellence and civic engagement.  B-CU offers 38 degrees on its main campus and online college. Located in Daytona Beach, B-CU is one of three private, historically black colleges in the state of Florida. The institution boasts a diverse and international faculty and student body of nearly 4,000.  For more information, visit