In the 1970s, half a million people died on U.S. roads. Almost fifty years later, the rate of car crash deaths is 39% lower, according to 2021 statistics from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.

This was not by coincidence or magic, but through a series of small and deliberate public health changes: car design improved with new safety features, seatbelts became required by law, roads became safer and there were campaigns to stop drunk driving.

"I know that the same thing is possible for firearm injury," Dr. Megan Ranney, dean of the Yale School of Public Health, told Boston Public Radio on Monday. In addition to laws and new policies, Ranney said, public health measures could help lower gun violence rates in the United States.

In 2022, there were more than 48,000 firearm-related deaths — that's 132 people dying each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This includes accidents, homicides and suicides.

Ranney said lowering these rates begins with reframing firearm injuries as a public health issue, not just a criminal justice problem. “[Public health] is a whole different frame for how to approach this problem and can move us forward out of the space that we've been stuck in for so long," she said.

Some lawmakers have started to make this shift. In 2019 congress appropriated $25 million to the NIH and CDC to study and create health-based solutions to gun violence. “It is still just a pittance of what's needed compared to the overall mortality burden of the problem," Ranney said. "But it's better than nothing."

Gun violence falls under public health because there are "very real health effects," Ranney said. This includes the immediate physical effect when someone is shot with bullets, and their long-term emotional and physical effects if they survive. Plus, what Ranney calls the "ripple effects" on a gun victim's family, friends and community.

Public health programs look like community violence intervention programs, which have reduced firearm injuries in cities like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. Ranney has also participated in programs to decrease gun suicide in rural communities. "There are some... truly, truly promising examples across the country that we just need to scale up," Ranney said.

These approaches will take time, Ranney said. Rather than a generational shift, she said it's about finding and implementing solutions that can make a difference in reducing firearm injuries. "There is no magic wand that I can wave, but progress is possible," said Ranney.