Author: Kimia Khatibi

America’s Gun Violence Epidemic

Every year in the United States, thousands of people die at the hands of a public health crisis that has plagued the country for decades. Gun violence is responsible for the death of more than 110 Americans every day and firearms are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States. It is a detriment to the health, safety, and well-being of people across the country and has continuously infiltrated all our communities. Similar to most public health crises, gun violence also disproportionately impacts poorer communities and communities of color.

Lack of both education and regulation around these weapons continues to create an environment where children are scared to go to school in fear of losing their lives. In the United States, individuals only have to be 18 years old to buy an assault rifle like the one that was used to kill 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas this past May, making it the deadliest school shooting in almost a decade.

While debates continue over issues related to the Second Amendment, families are stuck grieving the unfair loss of their loved ones. While no parent should have to experience this pain, the reality in the United States is bleak — even during a time monopolized by the COVID-19 pandemic, the country witnessed twenty-seven school shootings that took the lives of hundreds of children just this year.

Congress has responded to this public health crisis by annually allocating $25 million to the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) and the National Institutes of Health (“NIH”) to research gun violence. The CDC uses a public health approach in analyzing gun violence by providing data to inform action, applying science to identify effective solutions, and promoting collaboration across multiple sectors to address the problem. Additionally, the CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention is currently funding ten state health departments, up to $225,000 per recipient, as part of an initiative to provide surveillance data on near-real time emergency visits for nonfatal firearm injuries.

Furthermore, Congress introduced and passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (“BSCA”) this session, which will enhance background checks for buyers under 21 years old, disarm domestic abusers, invest in mental health services, and provide federal funding for Red Flag Laws. Though this was a monumental step in curbing the terror of gun violence, barriers still exist to achieving a country free from this crisis. In June 2022, the United States Supreme Court decided New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen. This decision struck down a New York state law that restricted individuals from carrying handguns in public by requiring them to “demonstrate a special need for self-protection.” Removing these strict limitations on carrying firearms in public further threatens the health and safety of Americans across the country. Given the Supreme Court’s current conservative majority, it is critical that local, federal, and administrative leaders step up to save the thousands of lives that could be lost to gun violence in the coming years.

In February 2021, Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced Ethan’s Law, which aimed to establish a federal framework to regulate the storage of firearms on residential premises at the federal, state, and tribal levels. Although the bill did not pass federally, it is still possible to replicate these safety measures at the local and state level. So far, 23 states have adopted these laws, forcing gun owners to make a reasonable effort to safely store and lock their firearms so that they cannot be accessed by children. Through this effort, policymakers will reduce the almost 350 deaths annually that result from children unintentionally shooting themselves or others due to improper storage of firearms in their homes.

As demonstrated by the attempts detailed above, gun violence will not be an easy problem to solve. There must be a willingness to do whatever it takes to prevent guns from taking any more of our loved ones. This includes taking steps like securely storing firearms, advocating for bi-partisan legislation, and educating our communities on this public health crisis. It is through these tangible steps that our society can start to curb the terror of gun violence in the United States.

The Disheartening Reality of Maternal Healthcare in the United States 

Around the world, the United States is admired and followed as the globe’s leading superpower. However, the continuously high rates of maternal mortality in the United States greatly distinguishes it from its international counterparts.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines maternal mortality as “the death of a woman during pregnancy, at delivery, or soon after birth.” In the United States, about 700 women die each year as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications. While most of the complications that arise during pregnancy are preventable or treatable, the United States struggles to decrease its maternal mortality rates as women’s lives, especially women of color, are consistently put at risk. 

Throughout the country there are people, and more importantly policymakers, who believe healthcare is a privilege rather than a right. The right to healthcare is not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the United States Constitution, making policy decisions around how to access it a source of tension between political parties and lawmakers. Furthermore, access to maternal healthcare tends to suffer as a result of this political tension. The difficulty in improving maternal healthcare is further compounded by the fact that reproductive health is a subset of healthcare that predominately impacts women, making it a less funded and researched area of healthcare. 

Looking to legislative history to examine the steps taken forward to help improve these disheartening facts, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) stands out as a beacon of hope. The ACA expanded Medicaid to reduce the amount of uninsured women who are of a reproductive age and new mothers in the year after delivery. The ACA also forced insurers not to charge women higher health premiums than men, which used to be a common practice as women were expected to have more healthcare costs during their childbearing years. Additionally, reimbursement for midwives was increased to the amount physicians receive for performing the same service- an incredibly important addition for expanding access to personnel who can safely perform births. Though legislation such as this exists to improve maternal mortality rates in the U.S., devastating statistics around this issue continue to occupy the country and disproportionately impact women of color.

According to the CDC, black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than their white counterparts. This is largely due to social determinants of health that historically and continuously place women of color at a disadvantage when receiving healthcare through structures of systemic racism and implicit bias. In Washington D.C., 95% of pregnancy-related deaths occurred among black women between 2013-2017. In 2017, United Medical Center’s Obstetrics unit in Washington D.C. closed due to lack of revenue and malpractice, leaving nowhere to give birth for women living in Wards 7 and 8 which are primarily occupied by black residents. Women living in these Wards are forced to travel to Maryland or cross the Anacostia River to safely deliver their babies. This reality is sadly not unique to the nation’s capital as high maternal mortality rates continue to plague the U.S. even with legislative victories like the ACA. 

Unfortunately, the hope once raised by the passage of the ACA now appears to be overshadowed by the impending United States Supreme Court decision set to overturn Roe v. Wade this summer with Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. This upcoming decision is bound to disproportionately impact women of color as they will be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term and then give birth in a system that is already causing them irreparable harm. This upcoming decision has the power not only to increase the U.S.’s maternal mortality rate, but also change the course of how women’s rights and specifically their place in the healthcare system is respected in this country. Furthermore, how do we move forward in a society where after almost fifty years of progress from Roe v. Wade, our fate rests in the hands of a court who fails to recognize how a decision regarding women’s access to abortion will inevitably have a devastating impact on women of color accessing maternal healthcare?