What Should Doctors Say To Patients About Guns?

Today a group of well-meaning and thoroughly ignorant physicians are getting together in New York City to discuss for the umpteenth time the appropriate medical response to what is called a ‘national public health crisis;’ i.e., injuries caused by guns. They will no doubt draft yet another set of proposals to deal with the problem which will include all the usual things – more research funding, comprehensive background checks, ‘red flag’ laws, assault rifle ban, maybe even a mandatory delay in gun transfers or mandatory training before someone can walk around with a gun.

The reason I say these medical professionals are ‘thoroughly ignorant’ is because none of them know anything about guns. If they did know something about guns, they would understand that you can’t make something ‘safe’ which is designed not to be safe. How do we define the word ‘safe?’ It means that when we use something the way it’s supposed to be used that no injury occurs.

That being said, let me break the news gently to all those folks shooting their mouths off at today’s meeting in New York: The guns which are used to commit virtually every act of gun violence happen to be designed for one purpose and one purpose only – to kill or injure either the user of the gun or someone else. To use such guns in a ‘safe’ way is to invent a narrative that could only be taken seriously by people who know absolutely nothing about guns.

Want to ban assault rifles? Fine. Such a ban might result in reducing the number of people killed or injured with guns by, at best, 2 percent. What about the other 98 percent? Oh no, we can’t ban Glocks, we can’t ban tactical shotguns, the Constitution says Americans can own  those guns. And the last thing that medical professionals would ever want to be accused of doing is coming up with a response to a public health problem that didn’t align with 2nd-Amendment rights.

I have never understood how or why physicians need to be concerned about what the Constitution says or doesn’t say about guns when the evidence-based research that physicians are supposed to use to define all medical practice clearly proves that access to a gun is a significant health risk. Is the risk somehow lessened by locking the guns up or locking them away?  Sorry, but I have to gently break something else to my medical friends: There is not one, single study which has ever shown any connection whatsoever between ‘safe storage’ and the injuries caused by guns.

There are studies all over the place which find that when patients are counseled on safe behavior with guns, many of them later report that they have taken the doctor’s advice and are behaving with their guns in a safer way. But none of these studies are based on a before-and-after analysis of gun violence rates; it is simply assumed, with no evidence whatsoever, that behaving in a safe way with guns results in gun-violence rates going down.

When anyone puts their hand on a live gun (that’s a gun with ammunition ready to go) they have moved into a high-risk zone. And the only way to mitigate that risk is to make it impossible for anyone to put their hands on that gun. Now there happen to be many people (one of them me) who have decided for all sorts of reasons that they have no problem accepting that risk. There are also a lot of people who still like to ‘light up a Lucky’ or walk around with 40 extra pounds on their frame. And by the way, the Constitution gives every American the ‘right’ to do both.

Would any physician ever claim, in the interests of  ‘non-partisanship,’ that these patients should be advised to find a safer way to eat or smoke? Of course not. And that being the case, the physicians who think they can find some kind of neutral pathway to reducing gun violence are simply showing their ignorance about guns.

Want to get rid of gun violence? Get rid of the guns designed to cause gun violence. An approach which, by the way, doesn’t run counter to the 2nd Amendment at all.

11 thoughts on “What Should Doctors Say To Patients About Guns?

  1. I have to split a hair with Mike on this one on risk, if I understand him correctly. When you talk about a dangerous product its generally one that doesn’t behave as advertised and results in injury. Like air bags that spray shrapnel when deployed. As Mike says, guns are designed to shoot holes in things. That has to be understood.

    The number of actual accidental shootings is minor. Kinda like the AR thing. A percent or three resulting from the kind of people who check the chamber by looking down the barrel. Most gunshot wounds, fatal or not, are deliberate acts, so its not that you are entering a high risk zone by owning a gun but that some folks who are packing are already in a sociological high risk zone and are upping the ante even more. If you are prone to alcoholic binges or spates of depression or extreme anger and own a gun, likewise. Its not just doctors who should be putting this message out but the NSSF, NRA, my gun club, et al.

    Hunting accidents, which embody traditional gun ownership activities, from what I read, are on a decline but so, unfortunately, is hunting. Hunting accidents, Greg LeMond’s family notwithstanding, are rare; at least in NY, hunter safety was mostly gun safety and the Four Rules. But if people are packing on the street because it is their lifestyle (high risk individuals in Philly, LA, Chicago, East Overshoe, etc) then they are already at risk and the gun by all means ups the ante.My problem with the “more guns is good and we should all carry” mantra is that for some, it encourages the taking on of a risky behavior, to wit, thinking that we should solve our problems 135 grains at a time.

    Meanwhile, if my doctor wants to counsel me or most Americans about risks to our heath, he would be better to ask me, for example, about my 125 HP motorcycle, whether I am taking my cholesterol meds, and whether I am getting enough exercise. Obesity and sedentary related diseases are a far more serious epidemic, resulting in the annual slow suicide by hundreds of thousands of Americans. About eight years ago my cholesterol got up into the hazard zone and my doc had a Come to Jesus talk with me. I wish doctors actually were not clueless about guns and gun culture and could counsel those truly at risk.

    Sure, guns are intrinsically dangerous. People need to understand that before ever laying a hand on one. And some mistakes you only get to make once. Packing While Stupid can be hazardous to the health of you and others.

    • Jim,

      Talk of banning guns is what got the GVP community bogged down way back when, and they’re still stuck in the muck because of it The U.S. should do as Germany has – i.e., tightly written, strictly enforced regulations.

      • I know this is what Germany has done…In Berlin, police established weapon-surrender posts, paying 100 marks for a rifle or carbine. Also a Prussian High Court opined that German citizens had no legal rights to bear arms.

      • The fact is, Germany allows anything up to an assault-style weapon via a graduated regulation system. And, as a result, gun guys get the toys they want (that’s what they – TOYS) and yet lives are saved. If some of them wish to safely dispose of a weapon by voluntarily surrendering it to the police, I think that’s great.
        You don’t need a right to guns to own them. Even our right to arms here in the U.S. is quite circumscribed – as it should be.

    • Sorry, my mistake.

      …When I wrote:
      “I know this is what Germany has done…In Berlin, police established weapon-surrender posts, paying 100 marks for a rifle or carbine. Also a Prussian High Court opined that German citizens had no legal rights to bear arms.”

      This all happened in the late 1930’s. Many things have changed since then.

  2. “You nailed it in the last paragraph. Get rid of the most dangerous guns as a start.”

    “AS A START”….Because the Anti-Gun sides ultimate goal is and always has been TOTAL DISARMAMENT.

    Gun Ownership is NOT a “Health Risk”.

    So….What Should Doctors Say To Patients About Guns?

    Unless the patient is showing signs of Depression, or contemplating Suicide AND mentions having a gun…Not a Damn thing.

    ….Funny that Doctors never seem to be concerned enough to speak with patients about the “Health Risks” of Belts, Razor blades, Household Chemicals, or Tall Buildings….

    • ” …. Funny that Doctors never seem to be concerned enough to speak with patients about the “Health Risks” of Belts, Razor blades, Household Chemicals, or Tall Buildings….”

      Actually, doctors do.

      • REALLY? Does anybody here EVER remember your Doctor asking or talking to you about the “Health Risks” of Belts, Razor blades, Household Chemicals, or Tall Buildings….? No.

        But, the last time I filled out the Medical questionnaire at a Doctor’s office there WAS a question about Gun Ownership.

        I ended up writing “NA” and “HERE FOR MY FOOT”.

  3. “The guns which are used to commit virtually every act of gun violence happen to be DESIGNED FOR ONE PURPOSE AND ONE PURPOSE ONLY – TO KILL OR INJURE either THE USER OF THE GUN or someone else.”

    ….Please Name 1 Firearm that has been designed to kill or injure the USER….

    …I’ll wait.

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