One of the nation’s leading gun-violence researchers published a commentary in Annals of Internal Medicine on Tuesday calling on physicians to publicly pledge to discuss firearm safety with their patients.
Garen Wintemute, who heads a unique state-funded firearm-violence research center at the University of California, Davis, wrote that the idea was born of a “here-we-go-again sense of futility” after the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas. Instead of waiting for Congress to act, “there is a critically important and beneficial action that we physicians can take, right now,” Wintemute argues. His article points to a form which doctors can use to announce their commitment to speaking with high-risk patients about gun safety.
Wintemute isn’t the only physician calling for action after the shooting on October 1. In the two and a half weeks since, the profession has stepped up its efforts to reduce the shootings that lead to tens of thousands of emergency room visits and hospitalizations each year.
Medical associations urge federal reforms
- The day after the Las Vegas shooting, the executive director of the American Public Health Association underscored the importance of “comprehensive gun safety laws” and said the group was ready to work with lawmakers “to treat this issue with the urgency it deserves.”
- That same day, the American Academy of Pediatrics pointed to wide variations in state laws and advocated for “strong state and federal gun laws” to stop the everyday gun violence that has “become all too common in our daily lives.” After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, the group recommended the creation of federal policies to help prevent gun violence and urged the reinstatement of federal funding of gun-violence research.
Some medical organizations, going further, endorse specific policy changes
- The American College of Physicians called for a ban on semiautomatic and automatic weapons “that were designed to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible.”
- On October 3, the American Medical Association reiterated its call for background checks and waiting periods to purchase handguns, which it first issued after the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 20016. (A Harvard Business School study released just this week concluded that nearly 1,000 deaths could be prevented each year if waiting periods for handguns were expanded nationwide, and a national Gallup poll this week showed 75 percent support for a 30-day waiting period.)
Medical editors don’t mince words: “Guns kill people.”
- That was the message from a forceful op-ed written October 9 by a group of editors for the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). “Guns do not make individuals, their families, or homes safer,” they wrote, and the dangers posed by firearms present doctors with an obligation: “Physicians and others should ask about guns in the home, especially for high-risk patients, and advise about removal and safe storage.”
Individual doctors spread awareness on social media
- The day after the Las Vegas shooting, Reema Kar, a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins, posted a photo of her “trauma shoes,” which bear the bloodstains of gunshot victims she’s operated on. In an accompanying essay, Kar said she shared the image to “raise awareness for the needless loss of life due to gun violence.”
- Since the massacre, Kar’s colleagues Elliott Haut and Joseph Sakran have used their social media accounts to call attention to America’s gun-violence crisis and urge the public to contact their elected officials.
Trauma experts teach civilians to be first responders
- Roughly half of the 58 victims of the Las Vegas shooting died before they even reached a trauma center, leading some trauma experts to recommend that more civilians take advantage of existing programs providing training in stopping blood loss from violent injuries like gunshot wounds. (Participants in those programs are sharing what they’ve learned via the #StopTheBleed hashtag on Twitter.)
- “We think the American public can, if they can use some of these same techniques, save lives in the same way nonmedical soldiers can save lives,” a medical professor at the Uniformed Services University told the New York Times.
A new wrinkle on gun buybacks aims to give physicians a louder voice in the gun-violence debate
- One gun-violence-prevention advocate is enlisting doctors at trauma centers to lead gun buybacks on December 16 in six states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. So far, nine trauma centers will be participating, according to its organizer, Mike Weisser, a longtime gun dealer who blogs about gun issues as “Mike the Gun Guy.” The goal, Weisser tells The Trace, is to expand the partnership nationwide, and “put physicians right back where they belong in the debate about gun violence — in the middle of it.” Doctors are in a unique position to address gun violence, Weisser adds: “There’s no better network than the primary-care doctors in medical centers all over the country. They’re on the front lines of gun violence. And they all talk to each other.”