Doctors’ Prescription to Reduce Gun Violence

Image result for sandy hook elementary school memorial

Like a lot of people, I get pretty numbed to gun violence on television. I stopped watching the local news because all they seem to show is news about shootings. The general public’s perception about gun violence is that it’s always somebody else, that the person  who was shot had somehow been involved in crime. The numbness we feel to gun violence often ends for most of us when things hit close to home, when you or someone you know is affected.

That happened for me 15 years ago,  as I was off in medical school in another country. I got a call that a childhood friend had been killed, shot in the head while driving to his job in Danbury, Connecticut. We had been best friends since the moment we met in first grade at St. Rose elementary school in Newtown. We were buddies through grade school, his house was my first sleepover. He taught me some of his karate moves. But while he probably could have beat up any of us, he never fought with anyone except for the time some kid in class started calling me the “N” word.  We remained best friends until I switched schools in 6th grade. After I heard the news, I was immediately ashamed that I had not really kept in touch with him since high school. There was no known motive for Mark’s shooting, his life and everything he would have been was just erased from the earth, without reason. To this day, his crime has not been solved.

Things rang close to home again more recently, as I was making rounds in the hospital. I was aghast to see, on a patient’s television screen, an aerial view of people running out of my hometown’s other elementary school, Sandy Hook elementary, which my brothers and sister had attended years ago.

Since that time, I’ve believed that, as a physician, a citizen, and now a father, I need to advocate more strongly for common sense measures to promote gun safety. So I am pleased that several physician organizations representing several different specialties have released recommendations to reduce firearm related deaths.

Firearms are the second leading cause of death among adolescents and adults, behind motor vehicle accidents. Over the years several regulations have been adopted that have reduced motor vehicle deaths, yet motor vehicles are more powerful, accessible, and more useful than ever. There is reason to believe that firearms deaths can also be reduced in a similar fashion. Here’s a list of six common sense recommendations that can help reduce firearm related deaths.

1. Universal Background Checks: Background checks are currently required for sales by licensed dealers, but 40% of transfers take place outside of this network. Background checks should be universal, no exceptions, no loopholes.

2. End Physician Gag Laws: Laws that prevent physicians from discussing gun safety  principles with their patients should be banned.

3. Mental Health Awareness: We should promote identification of mental health symptoms in the public to help identify those who may be at risk of suicide or violence. Blanket firearm restrictions based solely on the presence of a mental health disorder should be discouraged.

4. Laws Requiring Physicians to Report Possible Threats: Appropriate laws should be considered which do not deter those with mental or substance abuse disorders from seeking treatment for their conditions.

5. Assault Weapons: Ending the sale of military style assault weapons and large capacity magazines to private individuals would seem like a common sense thing to do.

6. The Need for Further Research: Future recommendations should be data driven. Appropriate funding to the nations public research institutions should be prioritized to increase understanding regarding causes and consequences of firearm violence.

While many will question the legality of these recommendations, they were created  in concert with the American Bar Association to ensure that none of these measures would be contrary to current legal precedent or the Second Amendment.  The Supreme Court has stated that the Second Amendment does not guarantee the “right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose”. The American Bar Association agrees that these recommendations are within the bounds of the Second Amendment.

To this day, Mark’s mom still keeps tabs on me and how my life is going. I like to think it’s because she sees a little bit of Mark in me, and perhaps in my life she sees a reflection of the life that he never lived.

Deep Ramachandran, M.D is a pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine physician, and social media co-editor of CHEST Journal. He blogs at CaduceusBlog, CHEST Thought Leaders Blog, and is on Twitter @Caduceusblogger.

Original article published in Annals of Internal Medicine can be accessed here: Ann Intern Med. 2015;162(7):513-516. doi:10.7326/M15-0337