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Deaths from handguns and other violent acts might be reduced if violence were seen as a public health issue instead of only a criminal justice problem, a University of Tennessee research report suggests.

Dr. Ian Rockett, UT-Knoxville exercise science professor, said that viewing violent injuries from a public health perspective could prevent deaths and injury more effectively than simply punishing people.

“A public health approach focuses more on factors that cause violence. It looks more at the social context and takes a more proactive view,” Rockett said.

“Law enforcement officials do a great job, but they are reactive and called in only after violence occurs.”

In a bulletin for the Population Reference Bureau on “Injury and Violence: A Public Health Perspective,” Rockett reports that injuries kill about 5 million people annually worldwide, including 150,000 U.S. deaths and 3,600 in Tennessee.

About 64 percent of the deaths — most from car wrecks, falls and drownings — are unintentional, the study shows.

Public health strategies such as better seatbelt law enforcement, speeding and drunk driving penalties, and vehicle safety have reduced occurrence of death from unintentional injuries.

However, deaths from intentional injuries, especially homicides and suicides from firearms, have increased.

Rockett said they could be reduced by using public health methods to restrict access to firearms, such as increasing gun manufacturer-s liability and promoting education on safe gun storage.

Also, hospitals — not just police — could record more specific data about how, when and where an injury occurred, and whether it was intentional or involved weapons or violence, Rockett said. This could help epidemiologists and other health officials design better injury control strategies, he said.

“Many people take a fatalistic view of violence and injuries as random phenomena rather than an epidemic that–like a disease– can be battled public health measures,” Rockett said. “I think society underestimates the problem and our capacity to alleviate it.”