This case study details a 2018 “near miss” school mass-shooting event in Vermont that involved a former student and occurred contemporaneously with the Parkland, Florida, tragedy. The situation “jolted” this rural state's governor, lending urgency to the need to enact sensible gun control laws. He comes to support a series of proactive bills already in the legislature and advocate for further preventive strategies. The state's commissioner of health plays public health's traditional role within state government as trusted health promotion and education resource to frame the issue in public health and public safety terms. He portrayed health data on firearm injuries and deaths and formed a public health strategy including surveillance, identification of risk factors, and resources for school- and community-based prevention. On April 11, 2018, Governor Phil Scott signed a package of gun-related legislation that included increasing the legal age for gun purchases, expanding background checks for private gun sales, banning high-capacity magazines and rapid-fire bump stocks, and extreme risk protection orders. The final results were examined from an evidence-based public health standpoint, acknowledging the lack of gun research by federal agencies since the 1996 enactment of the Dickey Amendment that prohibits the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting firearms-related research. The case study illustrates the paradox of moving forward on gun safety, where more research is needed, but research does not necessarily influence political leaders or policy. It also demonstrates how prevention of gun violence can be portrayed in a public health framework, drawing upon data and strategies used in upstream preventive efforts in areas such as early childhood development, mental health, and substance misuse.
Brody School of Medicine, Greenville, North Carolina (Dr Novick); Vermont Department of Health, Burlington, Vermont (Dr Levine); and Stamford, Connecticut (Ms Novick).
Correspondence: Lloyd F. Novick, MD, MPH, Brody School of Medicine, Hardy Bldg, Greenville, NC 27834 (NOVICKL@ecu.edu).
The authors acknowledge the review and contributions of Michael Fraser, PhD, to this case study.
The authors declare no conflicts of interest.