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In St. Louis ERs, gunshot wounds are a daily occurrence — and a public health emergency

St. Louis’ four level-I trauma hospitals have cared for more than 10,000 firearm injured patients in the last decade.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis’ four Level 1 trauma hospitals have cared for more than 10,000 firearm-injured patients in the past decade.

While the nation reels from the mass shooting in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Dr. Kristen Mueller finds herself reflecting on the sheer amount of everyday gun violence in St. Louis.

“Firearm injuries have become one of [the] regular reasons people seek medical care in the city,” the emergency medicine physician told St. Louis on the Air. “It's almost what we call a ‘bread and butter case,’ as terrible as that sounds.”

Mueller works in the emergency departments at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital. She’s also an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Washington University’s School of Medicine.

She said St. Louis’ four Level 1 trauma hospitals have cared for more than 10,000 patients with acute firearm injuries in the past decade.

“These are 10,000 kids, moms, dads, aunts, uncles — real people who have had their lives ripped apart by firearm injury,” she said. “And that is an underestimate for the true burden of this disease in our region, because some folks will stay at their smaller regional hospitals and some patients will die before they make it to the hospital.”

Mass shooting casualties make up a minority of deaths from firearms in the U.S. today — suicide and interpersonal violence are the leading causes of death by firearm. For Mueller and her colleagues, it’s less a matter of a single shocking incident and more a parade of bullet wounds, day after day after day.

Mueller said she is frustrated, angry and tired, but not hopeless.

“Every single firearm injury is preventable,” she said. “We just need to come together as a society and decide that we're ready to move the needle on this.”

Dr. Kristen Mueller joins St. Louis on the Air

Mueller recommends several evidence-based solutions for curbing firearm injuries in St. Louis. That includes, she said, “safe storage of firearms, getting connected with injury prevention programs and violence interruption programs, getting connected with better social services, and giving people the resource to have other choices.”

She added that a $5 billion provision in the Build Back Better plan to fund community violence prevention “would be a game changer.”

“I would love to see our local elected representatives take the lead on this," she said, "because this is a public health issue and a life threat that affects so many of our other constituents here in Missouri.”

If you or someone you know are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.