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Eric T. Chaffin
Eric T. Chaffin
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Public Violence is a National Health Issue—Tips to Protect Yourself

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It's a sad day when beautiful and colorful Colorado lands in the news again not because of its importance in the upcoming political campaign or its numerous natural resources, but for a random violent event that shattered the lives of 71 victims, including 12 dead—the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. Who would have ever thought that in America, we'd have to watch out for our lives even when going out to see a movie?

The truth is that though events such as these are thankfully rare, they remind us that we live in a world that cannot guarantee our safety, no matter where we are. That means it's up to us to adopt habits that keep us aware of our surroundings, and reduce our chances of being caught in that once-in-a-lifetime, violent nightmare that none of us ever wants to experience.

Public Violence Becomes a National Health Issue

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, public violence is now clearly recognized as a public health problem. In a way, this is good news. We've done such a good job of eradicating many life-threatening diseases like tuberculosis and pneumonia, which were the leading causes of death at the turn of the 20th century, that homicide is now one of the bigger concerns when it comes to human health.

On the other hand, we've seen trends indicating that homicides in some population groups are on the rise. For instance, between 1985 and 1991, homicide rates among 15–19-year-old males rose by 154 percent.

A 1979 report by the Surgeon General further noted that the control of stress and violent behavior should be a priority in the efforts to improve the health of children, adolescents, and young adults. In 1985, the Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Black and Minority Health identified homicide as a major cause of the disparity in death rate experienced by African Americans and other minorities. By 1993, schools and communities across the nation were developing numerous violence-prevention programs.

Suspects Vary

James Holmes, accused of killing moviegoers in Colorado at the premiere of the latest Batman movie, is a 24-year-old college student who recently quit a Ph.D. program in neuroscience for reasons that aren't yet clear. The shooting is described as the worst since the November 5, 2009, killings at Fort Hood, Texas. In that incident, the shooter was a 39-year-old graduate of Virginia Tech and a psychiatrist who was practicing at Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood. He killed 13 people and wounded 30 others in his workplace, the Soldier Readiness Processing Center, where personnel receive medical treatment before and after deployment.

Just last year Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head when an assailant opened fire outside a grocery store, killing six people and wounding 13 others. The shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was 22 years old. In 2007, college senior Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others at Virginia Tech. We all remember the Columbine High School massacre of 1999, as well, in which two senior students murdered 12 fellow students and one teacher and injured another 21 students, then committed suicide.

Tips to Help Protect Yourself

Whatever the situation, the victims, or the perpetrators, one thing remains constant in these types of attacks—they take us by surprise. They also remind us that there is still much to be done to protect public safety. In the meantime, though we don't need to live in fear, we do need to realize that we live in a society in which violence can occur anytime, anywhere.

The following are some tips that may help you protect yourself should you ever find yourself in a violent situation:

  • Accept that criminal threats are a reality in our society, and choose not to be a victim—predators typically choose someone who seems to be an easy target
  • If you hear gunfire, don't go toward it to "find out what's going on"—get away and call for help
  • To lower your profile as a target, choose seats in a public venue that allow for a hasty exit; know the layout of the place and visualize an escape route
  • Take cover, preferably behind something that will protect you—a wall is better than a chair, for example
  • Make fast decisions and move—don't spend too long debating over what to do
  • Carry a bright flashlight—these work well for temporarily blinding the assassin which may allow you to get away; former Navy Seal Brandon Webb suggests a 200+ lumens light that is waterproof and LED
  • Learn to always pay attention to your instincts, other people, and your surroundings, and speak up to someone in charge if you are suspicious of something or someone
  • Respond quickly to any danger—scream, run, and get someone's attention
  • If you're particularly concerned about safety—for instance, if you have young children—you may want to consider avoiding large crowds and late-night events