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Doctors and the NRA: 'We Must Stand Up'

Op-Med is a collection of original articles contributed by Doximity members.
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The National Rifle Association (NRA) recently condemned doctors who are against gun violence, telling us to "stay in our own lane," and complaining we had not checked with outside experts (i.e., them).

Last I heard, reducing preventable deaths was exactly the main lane for doctors. Quite appropriately, this stance has led to a major reaction by doctors, one of whom, a trauma surgeon, posted a picture online of herself and her operating team with a young patient who had just succumbed to his bullet wounds despite their efforts.

The tragic shooting at Mercy Hospital in Chicago that left an emergency physician among the victims highlighted for physicians how vulnerable we are to acts of violence; that despite thinking we would not be targeted because we are here to help all, we are not immune.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a report on firearm homicides and suicides (in MMWR 67(44):1233-7, dated November 9, 2018). In an understated way, the CDC said that "firearm homicides and suicides represent a continuing public health concern in the United States." During the two-year period 2015-2016, the United States experienced 27,394 homicides, including 3224 among persons aged 10 to 19, using guns. In the same period, there were 44,955 firearm suicides, including 2,118 among persons aged 10 to 19.

Our numbers are so much worse than any other western democracy that comparisons are almost meaningless. As I point out in my new book, "Prescription for Bankruptcy," people can attempt suicide by many means, but no other means is 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 lethality rate when the means used is a firearm is close to 100 percent.

On May 21, 2018, CNN reported on a survey of school shootings around the world. Their study was less than truly "scientific" because it was based on media reports. Thus, shootings in which no one died might easily have been missed. But what they found was sad enough. During the period beginning January 1, 2009, through May 21, 2018, shootings with fatalities at U.S. schools, both K-12 and colleges and universities, totaled 288. 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. Looking around the world, found over the same period eight school shootings in Mexico, six in South Africa, four each in Pakistan and Nigeria and three in war-torn Afghanistan. We are all too aware of what happens after each mass slaughter of innocent children. 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.

Many measures have been proven successful at lowering firearm fatalities, and none of these would infringe on the legitimate use of firearms by hunters. If every state in the country had laws similar to those in Massachusetts, and every state had a similar death rate from guns, tens of thousands of American lives would be saved.

We supposedly live in a country in which the majority rules, respecting the rights of minorities. A clear majority of Americans want better gun control. We MUST stand up to the NRA and tell our elected officials they will not be re-elected if they do not grow spines.

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