Guns Kill

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.

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2 Comments

  1. Al

     /  May 7, 2013

    One thing that always amused me growing up was bumper stickers and NRA adds featuring “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed” as if the first two phrases had no relevance to the last. For a long time there was a parallel universe. The NRA and gun enthusiasts who believed the 2nd amendment gave them an unalienable right to arm themselves and the Supreme Court that ruled that the 2nd amendment protected a state or collective right rather than an individual one. Only recently has the Supreme Court reversed nearly a century of jurisprudence saying that in fact the 2nd amendment means what the NRA said it meant all along rather than what past Supreme Courts ruled.
    Both the gun rights and gun control camps cherry pick statistics to the point where their real implications are lost. The only way to have a reasonable discussion about gun policy is to discount any obviously polemic sources. My conclusion is that the cost benefit analysis of handguns doesn’t support their possession. Handguns are dangerous and not very effective combatting crime; even the police only hit people 17% of the time with handguns. Handguns are more likely to get you into trouble than out of it. Owning a handgun makes it more likely someone in your household will be shot or killed rather than less. On the other hand, the number of deaths and injuries from firearms is less than the number from cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, dementia and diabetes.
    From a health point of view I agree that your patients should be made aware of the dangers they face whether it is from smoking, being overweight, or owning a firearm.

  2. ‘Merica!

    I do have moments of dark Darwin Award type amusement when I read that some gun fetishist who does not know how to actually handle a firearm handles one for the first time at a gun show and accidentally shoots himself. Except that the bullet/s often travels through a crowd of innocent bystanders. And it’s not just adult shooters.

    “A young boy in Kentucky has accidentally shot his two-year-old sister in the chest, killing her. He was playing with a rifle he got for his birthday. The shooting happened in Burkesville, Kentucky as the boy was playing with the 22-calibre ‘youth model’ gun when it was not realised that the gun was loaded. The children’s uncle, David Mann, described the accident as ‘something you can’t prepare for'” Other news sources quoted the coroner or someone weaving fantasy like, you just couldn’t predict… freak accident…

    Actually, this is an obviously predictable outcome. You can prepare for this event by, you know, preventing it. Whether or now they knew the gun was loaded (I learned how to shoot from a chief of police way back in WY, so I know of what I speak: how the fuck do you not know whether or not the gun is loaded?! ) you always, always treat firearms as if they are loaded. EVEN if you know they are not.

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