Like much of the nation, I followed the unfolding coverage of this latest mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue with deep sadness, fear and resignation.

The playbook following these acts of atrocity has become eerily predictable. Up-to-the-minute reporting on the death toll and emerging profiles of the victims and shooter.

Thoughts and prayers for those affected. Reactive political posturing around the issue of gun control and calls for reform.

Yet, often lost in the emotion and rhetoric following mass shootings is the fact that gun violence is a defining public health issue in the United States.

An AR-15 was one of the weapons used by the suspect in the deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday.

Flickr: Mitch Barrie

Every day just shy of 100 Americans are killed with guns, and hundreds more are shot and injured. Firearms are the second leading cause of death among children and teenagers and a leading cause of death among adults.

Gun violence is closely connected to other critical public health issues including suicide (related over half of all gun deaths) and domestic abuse/intimate partner violence.

Political Polarization

However, a coordinated, evidence-based and effective public health response to gun violence is stymied by an incredibly polarized political and social climate. There remains no universally accepted definition of mass shooting. The Dickey amendment, passed in 1996, stunts the ability of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research related to gun violence.

While there is ample evidence from other high-income countries supporting gun regulation, the lack of robust, U.S.-specific data makes it all the more challenging to take appropriate action.

Hawaii is the only state that requires registration of all firearms, and has among the lowest rates of gun ownership and gun-related deaths in the country.

Arguably, this vacuum of federally funded research has helped to further politicize the issue, as advocates and nonprofit organizations pushing for gun control have stepped in to compile and publicize information.

Data from Hawaii already suggests that gun control can save lives.

Hawaii is the only state that requires registration of all firearms, and has among the lowest rates of gun ownership and gun-related deaths in the country. While Hawaii is geographically and culturally unique, further research could help to solidify the value of common-sense regulation and position Hawaii as a policy leader on state-level reforms.

Nearly 45 percent of Americans personally know someone who has been shot.

Public support is at an all-time high for tightening gun legislation. However, as meaningful national-level reform has failed to materialize in the aftermath of numerous mass shootings over the past few years, it does not appear that political leadership will move on this issue anytime soon.

Perhaps our first step is to loosen restrictions on gun violence research, to begin on a path of treating this as a public health, rather than a partisan issue.

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