September Post: Meet our new Executive Director
By: Gyl Switzer, Executive Director
Wow! So much to learn! I am beyond thrilled to be the new Executive Director of Texas Gun Sense. One of the most important public health issues in Texas and across the country is gun violence. Very early on as Executive Director I will share some thoughts here as well as highlight some career milestones. I intend for my next blog post to be a report of a success or two.
New Orleans is one of the most wonderful places in the country. People are friendly. The food is amazing. The city has a certain rhythm that feeds incredible music. The architecture reveals the rich and long history of the city. The city also has one of the highest rates of gun violence in the country. I grew up in NOLA and went to college there. Most of my large family is still there. My husband and children and I travel there several times a year. The gun violence casts a long shadow over the city and I long to be part of nationwide action by committed folks in each state that can lead to innovations and interventions that can help Texas, Texas communities, and perhaps spill across the Sabine.
Like too many others, I came to Austin for graduate school and stayed! I worked as a civil rights investigator while I earned a Masters in Public Affairs from the University of Texas LBJ School. Gun violence is a civil rights issue—it disproportionately affects certain demographic categories. For example, African American men gun deaths far exceed gun deaths in other groups.
Strategic planning, data analysis, policy development, public education, and political activity are public health tools that can be brought to bear on gun violence. To summarize, a public health approach includes five key components. The approach is population-based and it focuses on prevention. It is a systems approach. The focus of public health interventions is broad and inclusive and emphasizes shared responsibility over blame.
I believe TGS has an imperative to continue to lead among its supporters, other advocates, and a broad range of other stakeholders to address gun violence with a public health approach. For many years I worked at the Texas Department of Health (TDH) on public health data analysis, strategic planning and policy development rooted in public health principles. While I worked at the Department I earned a Master of Public Health and I was sold on the population-based approach to serious community and statewide challenges. After TDH, I worked at the Williamson County and Cities Health District as Director of Planning and Public Information where co-workers and community members taught me lots about public health!
For the past nine years, I served as Public Policy Director at Mental Health America of Texas (MHAT). I had the opportunity there to work with TGS and the former Executive Director, Andrea Brauer, on gun violence issues that often overlap with mental health issues. TGS has been a force to reckon with at the Capitol and I look forward to continuing that work. Shout out to Andrea and the TGS board for their work.
One of the most important and most challenging issues I worked on at MHAT was suicide prevention. I encountered so many folks who have been impacted by the death of a loved one—too often using firearms. I am humbled and motivated by the folks who have shared their stories with me. I carry their stories with me.
A core principle of public health is that injuries and accidents are preventable—including gun violence. TGS and colleagues must invest in the goal of prevention while making important steps to reduction.
Let’s carry the stories of the individuals and communities impacted by gun violence with us all. Gun violence is preventable and TGS will continue to work tirelessly to prevent it, we invite your participation in these efforts.
Contact Gyl Switzer: firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 903-4186
-  Hemenway, D, Miller, M. Public Health Approach to the Prevention of Gun Violence. NEJM 2013; N Engl J Med 2013; 368:2033-2035