By Dr. Anthony Policastro

I initially wrote this article in 2017 after the Las Vegas massacre. Little has changed in the interim so it seems to make sense to address the issue again.

We have long known that safety laws are part of the equation for decreasing illness and death. Seat belt laws save lives. Child seat laws save lives. Motorcycle helmet laws decrease head injuries. Prohibition was a failure but deaths from cirrhosis of the liver due to alcohol decreased during it. 

We currently have an opioid epidemic. However, in 1907 when we passed the Pure Food and Drug Act approximately one in 500 Americans were addicted to opioids. That was usually in the form of laudanum.

Immunization requirements have been the biggest public health success story in this country. In 1938, measles, diphtheria and whooping cough were all in the top 10 killers of children. That is no longer true.

Every time there is a mass shooting like the one in the Texas school, there is a debate. Those who support gun control look for stronger laws. Those who are gun advocates do not see that as the right answer. 

There is a precedent that can be looked at for some of the answers to the questions that arise. In 1996, Australia passed the National Firearms Agreement. It was prompted by a mass shooting. A 28 year-old man killed 35 individuals with a semi-automatic rifle. 

The law looked primarily at addressing weapons that were used for mass shootings. They focused on semi-automatic self-loading rifles. As part of the program, they agreed to buy back prohibited firearms from the public. That way people did not have to lose the money they spent on the weapons. 

That resulted in 700,000 weapons being turned in. The United States has approximately 24 times the population of Australia. Twenty-four times that number would be about 17,000,000 if the same numbers held up in the U.S. 

There was also some stricter licensing and registration requirements as part of that law. The problem is that it is hard to tell if a law like that has any impact. Changes that occur after the law could be just coincidental. 

However, there were indeed changes that occurred. In the 18 years prior to the law, there were 13 “gun massacres” (more than four people killed at one time) in 18 years. They resulted in more than 100 deaths. 

That is a little less than one per year. If you multiple that by 24, it works out to about 17 incidents in a country with a population our size. In the 14 years following the law, the number was zero. 

Suicide by firearm rates were compared for seven years before and seven years after the law. The rate dropped to less than half of what it had been. Similar statistics were found for homicide by firearm. They were cut almost in half. The biggest drop in deaths were those due to the type of firearm involved in the buyback. 

It is not clear if this drop was coincidental or related to the law. Australia started out with fewer mass killings than we have. So there is a societal factor at work as well. However, history has pointed out the effectiveness of safety laws.

It is clear that adjusting laws help improve safety. They do not make the problem go away. We still have people dying in auto accidents. However, we need to find the happy medium. There is always room for improvement. We just need to find out the multiple steps that it takes to improve.

COVID update- Sussex County once again remains in the high range. The criteria for this is driven by three things. The first is the number of infections per 100,000 people. A low infection rate is less than 200 people infected per thousand. We currently are at 304.41 infections per 100,000 people. 

Then there are two further criteria for those counties with a high number of infections. The first of those is the percent of hospital beds with COVID-19 infected patients in them. Sussex County is currently at 6.2 percent. That puts the county into the medium range.

The second criterion is the number of new COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 people. Sussex County is at 16.8. That is in the high range. It would have to drop below 10 percent to move down to the medium range. 

The total number of cases in Sussex County went from 787 last week to 601 this week. Nationally the total number of new cases went from 779,000 two weeks ago to 771,000 last week to 834,000 this week. There continues to be undercounting due to home testing. That does not cause figures to change much from week to week since the undercounting is consistent during that period.