Sunday, August 4, 2019

When, oh when, will it end?

The National Rifle Association recently condemned doctors who are against gun violence, telling us to "stay in our lane." Reducing preventable deaths is the main lane for doctors.

And despite thinking that doctors would not be targeted because we are here to help, we are not immune. The tragic shooting at Mercy Hospital in Chicago on November 19 that left an emergency physician among the victims brought home to physicians how vulnerable we all are to acts of violence.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last fall a report on firearm homicides and suicides. In an understated way, it said that “firearm homicides and suicides represent a continuing public health concern in the United States.” In 2015 and 2016, the U.S. experienced 27,394 homicides, including 3,224 among youths ages 10 to 19, from guns. In the same period there were 44,955 firearm suicides, including 2,118 among 10-to-19-year-olds.

We are so much worse than any other Western democracy that comparisons are almost meaningless. As I point out in my book, Prescription for Bankruptcy, people can attempt suicide by many means, but none are nearly as “successful” as suicide by gun. Most people who attempt to kill themselves by cutting their wrists or taking an overdose survive, and repeat attempts are rare. The fatality rate when the means used is a firearm is close to 100%.

Last May, CNN reviewed data on school shootings around the world. While this study was less than truly scientific because it relied on media reports and, thus, might have missed shootings in which no one died, what it found was sad enough. From January 1, 2009 through May 21, 2018, there were 288 shootings with fatalities at U.S. schools, including grade schools and colleges and universities. This was 57 times as many as in the rest of the G7 nations combined. There were two school shootings each in France and Canada, one in Germany and none in Japan, Italy, or the United Kingdom.

A study in Health Affairs last January looked at the death rates among children and teenagers in 19 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Teens in the U.S. were 82 times more likely to die at the hand of a gunman than were their peers in the other 15 countries.

We are well aware of what happens after each mass slaughter of innocent people. Politicians mouth platitudes and offer their prayers and comfort to the victims and their families. They then hop back in the pockets of the NRA and do nothing to prevent the next shooting. Will this time be any different? Not unless we rise up and DEMAND action or loss of their seat in Congress.

We can lower firearm fatalities without infringing on the legitimate use of firearms by hunters. Massachusetts has one of the toughest gun laws in the nation and the lowest death rate from firearms. If every state in the country had a similar law and death rate from guns, tens of thousands of American lives could be saved.

To own a gun in Massachusetts, you must obtain a permit from your local police department. This requires paperwork, an interview and a background check. In addition, the local police chief may use discretion if he or she knows something about you that does not show up in your criminal record. Only after you get this permit can you go to a gun store and purchase a firearm. All firearms are registered, and if you get yours from a relative or private seller, that person must verify that you have a permit. Certain weapons, such as automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns, are illegal. Firearms must be stored in a safe or with a trigger guard. While 97% of permit requests are granted, it is assumed that many people do not bother requesting one knowing the process.

A clear majority of Americans want better gun control. Allowing hunters and others with a legitimate need to own rifles or shotguns after background checks would respect their rights while protecting our right to live. We must stand up to the NRA and tell our elected officials they will not be re-elected if they do not grow spines.

Physicians, dedicated to preserving lives, must take a lead, acting both as individuals and working through their organizations in fighting for common sense gun laws and making it clear that this is as high a priority as fighting the opioid epidemic to avoid senseless preventable deaths.

Prescription for Bankruptcy. Buy the book on Amazon


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  2. Hear, hear! Thank you. This is all very sensible, and desperately needed.

    We are slipping rapidly as a nation. The Social Progress Index, a meticulous study of social well-being ranking 146 nations, shows we not even in the top tier of countries. . We’ve slipped 5 places in the last two years - down to 25th - moving below Portugal, Slovenia, Singapore and S Korea. Only Yemen, Turkey and Thailand are sinking faster.

    The fundamental cause is a political system that is rigged to work for "rich special interests” 78% of the time, and not to work in any statistically significant way for the interests of regular citizens. (Princeton/Northwestern Study 2014: Martin Gilens/Benjamin Page). And there's a comprehensive apolitical analysis of how this has happened, jointly led by Harvard Business School's leading business strategy professor, at:

    This is the place to start to address our gun control, opioid addiction, health care, climate change, income disparity (etc.) crises. They are all situations where the will of the majority has been and still is systematically sidestepped. If we change our electoral system and some of the rules and practices on Capitol Hill, we can get our democracy back! The corollary from the above research is that until this happens, most other efforts are a waste of time. So the campaign for this change is probably more important than any other! For anyone preferring to hear and see the explanation, there was an introduction to this at a forum in Brewster a few weeks ago:

  3. Yes, we have the best Congress that money can buy, and so the lobbyists seem to outweigh the public good most of the time. Term limits would be a good start but imagine getting THAT through Congress!