It has convinced us to wash our hands more, taught us the details of safe sex and encouraged us to compare cars on their safety scores. It's called the public health approach, and now public health officials say it could help reduce gun violence.

It has been a bad couple of years for gun violence: the death of 20 children and six adults in Connecticut, 12 at a theater in Colorado and closer to home, five dead in a shooting that began at the Cafe Racer in Seattle.

For many those shootings and others raised questions about public safety. But for one man, it raised questions about public health.

When I think about public health, I think about something that is frequent, severe and we can do something about it, said Dr. Frederick Rivara, MD, MPH/UW Medical School. 31,000 deaths a year in the United States, that's very frequent. More frequent than any other country in the world. That's a big public health problem.

Dr. Rivara says the public health approach has reduced smoking, decreased automobile deaths and increased bike helmet use, and he thinks it can help with gun violence too.

Having a gun lock on a gun or putting a gun in a safe can remarkably reduce that risk, said Rivara.

But Rivara says what's really needed is more research, and that's a problem. The Centers for Disease Control haven't studied gun violence since 1996. That's when a Republican-controlled House of Representatives cut off federal funding for any research that might be used to justify gun control laws.

But at the local level, we have the ability to study those things, said Down Constantine, King County Executive.

Constatine says local government has to pick up the slack. That s why both King County and the City of Seattle have launched their own studies of gun violence.

We believe that examining gun violence through the public health lens can lead us to some solutions that can reduce the harm. Not eliminate it, but reduce the harm, said Constantine.

Although we all tend to think about gun violence as being crime related, two out of three gun deaths nationally and in King County are suicides. So there s a lot to learn about gun violence and a lot to learn about how to prevent it.

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