RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — State leaders say they are taking a public health approach to solving the problem of gun deaths and injuries.

On Thursday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services outlined a four-step plan to address the problem and compared the strategy to the one used to reduce motor vehicle-related deaths.

“A public health approach driven by data and informed by those most impacted will improve community safety and save lives in North Carolina,” NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley said. “We will build on the already successful programs across the state — layering those approaches to meet the needs of specific communities, reduce suicide and mitigate violence.”

An average of five North Carolinians die each day because of guns, the agency said, and the total reached 1,700 in 2020. Also, 116 children died a firearm-related death in 2021, it said.

More than half of gun-related deaths are suicides and more than 40 percent are homicides, the agency said.

“We know that public health strategies are all about prevention and how do we get up stream,” said Kinsley.

Alicia Campbell knows all too well the impact of gun violence. Her son, Ahmad, was shot and killed in 2016. She says he was a Junior at North Carolina A&T, attending a party when someone opened fire. Now, she makes it her mission to end gun violence as a volunteer with Moms Demand Action NC.

“I just felt like I needed to be his voice from now on just to save someone else’s life hopefully and prayerfully,” said Campbell. 

The NCDHHS said key public health actions include expanding plans that encourage safe gun storage, community-based programs that can intervene and prevent violence and intervention programs in hospitals; strengthening protective orders for survivors of domestic violence; and enabling extreme risk protection orders; and expanding Medicaid.

The four-step plan includes:

  • Defining and monitoring the problem through data, which it tracks through three incident-reporting systems.
  • Identifying risk and protective factors, including discrepancies between genders and races and the urban-rural divide, and pushing for improved safe storage systems and better access to mental health and substance use disorder services.
  • Developing and testing prevention strategies, including the encouragement of safe storage processes and increasing protection for those at high risk of violence.
  • Assuring widespread adoption.