Gun Violence in the News: It’s Time to Tell the Whole Story

Gun Violence in the News: It’s Time to Tell the Whole Story

By Karen Sheehan, MD

When I was a pediatric emergency medicine fellow in the early 1990s, I spent a month working in the Cook County Trauma Unit. It was not uncommon to get 20-30 gunshot victims a night. It was an appallingly high number. I also found it incredibly disturbing that reports of these shootings rarely made it into the news. When a person is shot, even if they survive, their lives, and their families’ lives, are permanently changed.

In the recent years, there has been increased coverage of the city’s shootings, but the coverage, for the most part, remains incomplete. Sometimes it is because it is just too early in the investigation to have anything concrete to report, but I also wonder if the brevity is due to reporters thinking that there isn’t anything new to say.

I found this brief report from last weekend after a fair amount of effort:

“A 17-year-old girl also was in critical condition after a shooting in West Garfield Park early Saturday, police said. A brown vehicle with several people inside began to follow the Nissan she was in. Someone in the brown vehicle opened fire and she was shot in the back of the head, police said.”  View the full story.

This young woman, whose life threatening injuries were given just over 53 words (my run-on sentences are often acceded more space than this), is a former patient who I wouldn’t have been able to identify from her newspaper description if her mom hadn’t reached out to me. Her daughter was shot on her way to work.

It has only been a few days since the shooting has occurred, so it may be too soon to have all of the facts, or it may compromise the investigation to report too much this early. But these are the questions we need to be asking as reporters – and as citizen readers:

  1. What type of gun was used to commit this crime?
  2. Who is the legal owner of the gun?
  3. If illegally obtained, how did it get to the hands of the criminal?
  4. Firearm violence is not just a criminal justice problem, it is also a public health issue. What strategies can we use to prevent firearm violence?

Recently, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) released Healthy Chicago 2.0, which used a collaborative, public health approach to outline how we should approach youth violence in the city. CDPH is calling for a multi-sector network of organizations such as healthcare providers, government agencies, social service providers, academic institutions, businesses and faith-based organizations to work together. In addition, I think all of us as citizens have a role to play. Check out Strengthening Chicago’s Youth (SCY) for ideas of what each of us can do to help to end this 21st century plague.

It’s critical that we keep on asking ourselves these questions – it is only when we stop asking that the answers become impossible to find.

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