By Richard Gingery, M. D.
If a new virus struck more than 100,000 Americans a year and killed nearly a third of its victims, the nation's medical establishment, including the National Institutes of Health and the Communicable Disease Center, would go into high gear seeking a preventative or a cure. Others in the medical community would be weighing the cost of treating so many victims. Other researchers still would be trying to understand the underlying pathology of the epidemic.
Sadly, we do face an epidemic, but it is not viral. This country is dealing with an epidemic of gun violence. Every day in this country 315 people are injured or killed by firearms. Of that number 222 will be shot and will survive while 32 will be murdered and 58 will die from suicide. Three others will die as a result of legal intervention, accident or an unknown motivation. The ones who die become a problem primarily for our legal system, but the 222 survivors will be rushed to an emergency room where they will be triaged and many or most will be sent on to surgery. They will face a painful and costly hospital stay and perhaps years of recuperation. The medical community would like to be able to reduce the magnitude of this epidemic, and they would like to do so in a time-tested scientific method involving the collection of data and the application of the most effective methods of prevention.
However, the leadership of the National Rifle Association is not quite on board with any program that would treat this epidemic of gun violence as we would treat other epidemics. Over the years the N. R. A. has taken a number of steps and backed a number of laws to keep the medical community from examining and treating the epidemic of gun violence. In Florida they backed a law to keep doctors from speaking to their patients about guns in the home and gun safety around children. Fortunately, the law was eventually overturned, but not before making a lot of doctors gun-shy about speaking about gun safety in the home. The N. R. A., twenty years ago, backed legislation to strip funding for gun violence research from the budget of the Center for Communicable Diseases. While that legislation did not ban research outright, that legislation was followed by the Dickey amendment which expressly forbade the CDC from spending funds to “advocate or promote gun control.” The original legislation and the amendment have stifled research on gun violence for twenty years.
Now I know that the average member of the N. R. A., knowing that half of all suicide deaths are caused by firearms, would do all that he or she could to make certain a depressed relative had no access to firearms. I know that more complete data about our gun violence epidemic would allow us to develop better screening tools to intervene and perhaps prevent that suicide attempt or that homicidal rage. I know that the Florida pediatrician who talked to a family about gun safety around children is not now and never was a criminal, even though that pediatrician could have lost his medical license before the Florida law was overturned.
Over the years we have heard much from the NRA in defense of the “sacred right” to bear arms. They have pronounced that the only way to stop a “bad guy with a gun” is with a “good guy with a gun.” This flies in the face of an FBI report which analyzed 160 active shooting situations between 2000 and 2013. Most of those active shooting situations ended when the perpetrator killed himself, fled the scene, or was stopped by law enforcement. Twenty-one of those situations ended when unarmed civilians stopped the shooter and in only one shooting was an armed civilian involved. Clearly this whole area needs more medical research. In the meantime, why is the NRA leadership so fearful that research, too, has them grabbing for their political guns?