Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Gun's Control

Should ED physicians take a side on the gun-control issue?

Sure, I’ve heard it before, guns don’t kill people; people kill people. This is absurd. Control the guns and ammunition and more people live. Simple. As a physician in an urban Emergency Department, it is not uncommon to treat patients with gunshot injuries. Worse, patients who are shot are almost always young. Should we as emergency physicians put more effort into gun-control measures?

Because we work on the frontlines, we see the effects of public health policy first. Take a less controversial issue: seatbelt laws. Laws mandating seatbelt use dramatically reduced morbidity and mortality. We saw this immediately in New York’s EDs. Before seatbelt laws, we saw hundreds of facial traumas per year because patients were not wearing seatbelts when the taxi they were riding in crashed, sending them flying into the plastic divider. After a major campaign to install seatbelts in taxicabs (organized in part by NYC ED physicians), we see fewer facial traumas in the ED, and passengers see fewer scars and prettier faces when they look in the mirror.

Gun violence is on the rise throughout the country, especially in urban areas. Those of us working in the ED see the affects every day. An article in this week’s NY Times touched on the issue.

Would stricter gun-control laws reduce morbidity and mortality the same way seatbelt laws did? Would gun-violence decrease if bullets cost $5000, as Chris Rock once suggested? Yes. Absolutely. I support our Constitutional right to bear arms, but I can’t imagine how unfettered access to guns and ammunition, as the NRA advocates, equals less violence, less bloodshed, less death.

Something has got to change.

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LilyRose said...

Maybe if more people saw first-hand what you see, what the results of rather permissive gun possession laws are, it would change their attitude? I don't know. Certainly, I think a message coming from the doctors treating the victims has to have some clout, though! Thank you for caring, and doing what you do. It can't be easy.

Adam said...

Thanks for the comment. I agree. Most people, I believe, would change their views if subjected personally to the problem (i.e. being assaulted by a gun-wielding perpetrator). Also, I wonder if people would still support the death penalty if they had to "pull the switch" and watch the person die. When you witness these things first hand, you see the ridiculousness of it

scalpel said...

There are already laws against assaulting people with guns. Such laws are comparable to the seatbelt laws you mentioned (or the legal alcohol level)...often ignored, comewhat effective. Law-abiding citizens follow these laws, but are still often injured by those who do not.

If you are advocating further restrictions on gun ownership or availability, it would be more like outlawing cars altogether, or limiting horsepower, or requiring helmets while driving, or limiting the speed limit to 40 MPH, or some such nonsense.

I have a post on this matter as well, from the opposite perspective.

Adam said...

Hi Scalpel,
Thanks for your comments. This is not a new debate, I'm sure you agree.

I believe in the second amendment, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed"

Should citizens be allowed to bear semi-automatic and automatic guns? Can the government regulate gun ownership without "infringing" on the right to bear arms. If you are a strict Constitutionalist, then gun-owners should be part of a militia. Should hunters, not belonging to a militia, be restricted from owning guns?

In any edict, interpretation varies. However, has any gun owner lost their life or suffered from government regulation of gun ownership? The reality is that guns are hazardous to society - they do damage, irreversible. There has got to be a better way of reducing gun-related injuries.

Judy said...

If I believed that restricting gun ownership would remove guns from the hands of criminals, I'd be on your side. Unfortunately, I don't think that is going to happen.

Placing seatbelts in taxis makes perfect sense. It allows people to be as safe in the taxi as in any other car. Gun control laws are more akin to laws prohibiting drunks from driving -- and we know how well those work.

We need better mental health and substance abuse care. We need better education for people in inner cities. We need mechanisms in place that will strengthen families. We need to convince young people that violence will not solve their problems.

I wish I could believe that adding to our gun control laws would accomplish anything, but I just don't buy it.

Adam said...

Thank you Judy for your excellent comments. I agree with your premise. However, why can't we have a much more regulated policy on gun ownership? Can we make it so that guns are difficult (but still available) for purchase? A strict process - even more so then we have today - to purchase a gun, in addition to a comprehensive registration system so that every gun purchased can be tracked. I am a believer in the 2nd Amendment. I also know that guns are dangerous and kill. I surmise that most gun-related injuries are caused by a relatively small group of people. Why do these people have guns? How do gang members get their hands on guns? Access. The American public needs take responsibility and work on a better solution and if that solution involves some sacrifice by current or future gun owners, so be it. In no way will someone who cannot immediately purchase a gun (due to stricter access laws) unduly suffer. It is impractical that gun-owners stand so strongly for their rights to own a gun. The 2nd Amendment is being abused.

Anonymous said...

Hello my name is Mark and I'm a law student. I would just like to let people know that the reason we have a 2nd amendment is for "the people" to protect themselves from their own government. It was included because of the fact that that is what we used weapons to defend our rights from the king of england who we considered a tyrant. So if you were looking at it as a literal interpretation of the Constitution it would be everyone has the right to bear arms and it's there responsibility to use it properly.

whether or not you feel this needs to be changed, is a different story all together.

Adam said...

Hi Mark,
Thank you for your interesting comments. I hope that you continue to share your opinion, particularly in the Law and Medicine Rounds column.