Since the day that twenty children and six adults were murdered by a heavily-armed man in Newtown, CT, I’ve been unable to get the “gun issue” out of my head. Someone could argue that I’m unhealthily obsessed, that my judgement is clouded, but evidence supports my beliefs. Guns are dangerous tools designed to kill, are marketed to children without regulation, and are easier to get than a driver’s license. We don’t let cigarette makers advertise to kids, and with good reason: cigarettes are responsible for almost half-a-million deaths yearly, in the U.S., and nearly 50,000 deaths due to second-hand smoke. If it were meteor strikes, we would probably shrug our shoulders and say, “well, it’s a tough universe,” but every cigarette-related death is preventable.
So are gun deaths. Cigarettes don’t kill people—unless people pick them up and smoke them. Guns also don’t tend to pick themselves up, point themselves and fire. Guns are simply tools that people use, tools that are responsible for more than 30,000 deaths in the US each year. Every one of those deaths were preventable. Suicide made up a large part of these deaths. Not all suicide attempts are successful, but the immediate lethality and ready availability of firearms makes it easier to try and succeed.
People can certainly disagree about the meaning of the Second Amendment, but facts don’t lie: our adherence to one particular interpretation is allowing tens of thousands of preventable deaths every year.
Whatever lawmakers may say, I will continue to ask my patients about gun ownership because it’s important to their health. I don’t tell them not to have guns, but I do ask them about their hobbies, hunting habits, and gun safety knowledge. I also let them know about the statistics that say that owning guns makes you more likely to suffer a firearms injury or death (obviously, really).
As with cigarettes and auto accidents, it’s likely that gun deaths can be prevented by regulation, but to take that step we ned to at least agree as a society that dead children make the question worth debating, examining, and voting on.