Is Obama Correct When He Calls Gun Violence An ‘Epidemic?’ He Sure Is.

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Whenever there’s a terrible, mass shooting, like Umpqua or San Bernardino, leave it to the pro-gun gang to wait 48 hours or so, and then remind us that it’s not such a big deal because: a) mass shootings only account for a tiny fraction of all gun shootings; b) gun homicides continue to decline; and, c) there’s nothing we can do about it anyway, so who really cares? And in case a little more juice is necessary to push the argument away from the problems caused by guns, we can always count on Johnny-boy Lott to pronounce that, once again, a mass shooting took place in a gun-free zone.

white house              But of course if you bother to look at the numbers on gun violence, and you take some time to understand what the numbers really mean, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to quickly figure out that this whole notion that gun violence being on the wane is simply and irretrievably not true.  And anyone who says otherwise either doesn’t know the facts or thinks that if you tell a lie enough times maybe someone will think you are telling the truth. So let’s start with the facts.

Gun violence is falls into five categories, according to the CDC: intentional homicide, unintentional homicide, intentional injury, unintentional injury and suicide.  And I don’t care about the NRA nonsense that ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people;’ the fact is that every one of the events which are counted in those five categories occurred because of the presence of a gun.  Now obviously you can kill other people or yourself without using a gun; ditto for injuries suffered by yourself or someone else.  But you can’t kill anyone as quickly as you can when you use a gun, and gun injuries are, medically-speaking, the most damaging and costly injuries of all.  So now let’s really get to the facts.

In 2001, the total body count for the five gun-violence categories was 92,031, of whom 29,821 ended up one way or another in the morgue, and the remainder, 62,210, lived to see another day.  Now the physical and mental condition in which these survivors actually continued their lives has never been calculated in any general sense, but a not atypical example is provided by the experience of Antonius Wiriadjaja who was hit by a stray bullet in Brooklyn, from which he then endured seven months of physical therapy to regain basic functions, along with 18 months of psychiatric treatment to prevent the onset of PTSD. Gun injuries are devastating, the costs of gun morbidity is calculated to be at least 40% higher than the cost of treating any other kind of injury, and Wiriadjaja got off with less post-injury trauma than a lot of other victims of gun wounds.

The pro-gun nation is up in arms (hopefully not literally) because the President keeps referring to gun violence as an ‘epidemic.’  Would the same bunch argue with the notion that we had an outbreak of the Ebola epidemic in 2014? Of course not.  Know how many people died worldwide from Ebola that year?  Roughly 30,000.  Isn’t that roughly the same number that have died from a gun injury in the United States every year over the past 30 years?

Not only do we suffer this carnage year after year, but the numbers keep going up! In 2001 all gun deaths and injuries totaled 92,031.  It was 99,968 in 2005, dropped down to 97,550, then steadily increased to 117,146 in 2013. This 25% increase in the overall number is largely driven by intentional injuries, which since 2001 have exoanded by nearly 50%

Know who benefits from this trend in a rather perverse way?  Trauma surgery residents get more training which means they can save more lives.  It’s their skills that are keeping gun deaths fairly constant while overall gun violence continues to increase.  The President isn’t wrong when he talks about a gun epidemic.  If anything, he’s understating the case.

We Can Solve Gun Violence Not By Getting Rid Of Guns, But By Getting Rid Of Doctors.

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Sooner or later the gun-nut lobby would begin to notice that groups that want to do something about the 100,000 gun deaths and injuries that occur every year have begun talking about gun safety.  And while I’m not sure the issue is clearly understood by these groups, just the fact that they are moving into a space that has always been completely defined and owned by the NRA is enough to get the gun-nut noise machine off and running, the first salvo appearing in a statement from none other than Dr. Timothy Wheeler whose website, Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, can be counted on to promote every loony, pro-gun idea imaginable, whether it has anything to do with medicine or not.

Wheeler’s statement, “Gun Safety is the New Gun Control,” tells you exactly where the gun nuts are going with this issue; viz, that nothing anyone other than gun nuts say about gun safety should be taken seriously, because everyone else is simply trying to get rid of guns.  And since one of these safety campaigns comes out of the Everytown group, and since we all know who funds Everytown, what more proof do you need?

docs versus glocks                I joined the NRA in 1955 and learned both sportsmanship and safety from the NRA instructor who met each week with my NRA-sponsored rifle club.  The NRA was formed as a training organization and you really can’t train people to shoot guns unless you also train them how to shoot guns safely.  Which the NRA has been doing since 1871.  And they do it very well.

But there’s one little problem with the NRA’s approach to training, namely (to use a medical term) it’s contraindicated by the organization’s endless and continuous attempt to sell gun ownership based on the idea that armed citizens protect us from crime.  It’s not true, it appeals to the most primitive human emotions of insecurity and fear, and it’s a cynical and dangerous effort to sell more guns.

When a gun is used to commit a suicide, a homicide, an injury or a threat, this constitutes an unsafe gun.  We make a mistake discussing gun safety with reference only to accidents, or what the CDC refers to as “unintentional” injuries from guns.  The NRA would like you to believe that suicide is an issue of mental health which has nothing to do with guns.  And homicides and assaults are crimes which also have nothing to do with guns.  After all, it’s not guns that kill people.  It’s people who kill people, right?

Last weekend, three people were killed and sixteen wounded by gun violence in New York City.  There were the usual flurry of news reports, a street-corner news conference featuring irate community activists, the as-always ‘we will do everything we can’ bromides from de Blasio and Bratton, and then business gets back to business.  If the media reported that three people had died over the weekend in New York City from Ebola, I can guarantee you that you could walk through Times Square today and you’d have the place to yourself.

When a virus that killed 30,000 people in Central Africa over one year is brought under control, we thank our lucky stars there’s something called the CDC.  When a noted clinician named Katherine Christoffel  refers to guns that kill 30,000 Americans every year as a virus, she’s attacked by a crackpot like Tim Wheeler as “reckless” and a “raving ideologue.”

There’s no question that different strategies are required to deal with accidental as opposed to intentional shootings.  There’s also no question that anyone who counsels gun owners needs to be mindful of their passion and enjoyment that is too often ignored when an argument heats up about guns. But if anyone thinks that pushing physicians out of the debate on what to do about 30,000+ gun deaths each year will make it easier to find a solution to this problem, then either they don’t think that gun violence is a problem or they should, in the words of my friend Jimmy Breslin, go lay brick.



Not All Physicians Think Guns Are Bad – A Few Think They Are Very Good.

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Last month a 3-year old in New Mexico grabbed his mother’s gun and shot both Mommy and Daddy, although luckily both parents survived.  The previous month in Idaho, Mommy wasn’t so lucky when her 2-year old pulled a gun out of her purse and shot her to death.  Both of these senseless, ridiculous events provoked the usual storm of media coverage leading to the predictable condemnation of guns on the one hand and defense of guns on the other.

Don’t get me wrong.  We are all human and we all do stupid, senseless things, from driving when we’ve had too much to drink, to sitting in a full bathtub while trying to plug a hair dryer with a loose wire into the wall.  But what’s different in the case of these gun accidents is that we’re not talking about something as important as an automobile or even as necessary as looking the best we can before we leave home for work.  We are talking about the decision to walk around with a gun, based on the idea that guns protect us from crime.

docs versus glocks                I have no issue with people who decide to carry a gun and I have never written a single word calling for limits on CCW or gun ownership, believe it or not.  But I think that if people decide to buy or carry a gun for self-defense, they should understand the risk involved, and not let the gun industry’s marketing serve as the final word.  Unfortunately, some of the most uninformed and blatantly misleading information about guns is provided by a small group of physicians who should know better, if only because physicians are the one profession in which decisions about risk can only be driven by evidence-based knowledge and not by their own personal views of what’s good for a patient’s health.  It’s a group of medical crackpots called Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, which began life in the mid-1990’s as a sycophantic, pro-NRA effort to defund gun research coming out of the CDC.  They claim to have a network of more than 1,400 health professionals but their website, associated with the 2nd Amendment Foundation,  is just a blog on which several physicians post commentaries whose distortions and downright falsehoods have been the subject of more than one of my own posts.

Just to be clear, I don’t have any issue with anyone who wants to opine on any subject at all. But when a professional dispenses professional advice that runs counter to the accepted practices and policies of his profession, then we’re not just dealing with idle talk.  In the case of medicine, we are dealing with advice which, if followed by patients, could result in serious medical harm.  To cite one example, in a recent DRGO post, the physician-author claims that “research shows how more guns in the right hands can minimize violence.”  There is no such research, at least none that meets even a minimal, evidence-based standard.  Is this physician counseling someone concerned about violence to go out and buy a gun even though he can’t point to a single, evidence-based study  that validates his point of view?

To show you how loony and unprofessional the DRGO group really is, their website carries a commentary by Jane Orient, a physician who told a conspiracy-minded web-hosted talk show that more than 100,000 West Africans who might be infected with Ebola were sitting in Central America getting ready to cross into the United States.  If Jane Orient is now the standard by which DRGO defines statements about medical risks from guns, Ebola or anything else, it becomes impossible to imagine that physicians belonging to this organization should be counseling on health risks at all.  But the point is that these medical charlatans don’t believe that guns are a risk.  And they are happy and even proud to promote this nonsense because they don’t support the Hippocratic Oath.  They support the marketing strategy of the NRA.  In the interests of full disclosure, I’d love to know how much and to what degree the 2nd Amendment Foundation is supporting them.


Why Not Let The NRA Protect Us From Ebola?

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Last year you may recall that the self-certified ophthalmologist, Rand Paul, derailed the nomination of Vivek Murthy to become Surgeon General because Murthy actually believes that guns are contraindicated to good health.  Now it looks like the nomination may go forward again, and to rev up support for Murthy, the States United campaign and MSNBC put out a statement blaming the NRA for a possible Ebola crisis in the United States, the logic being that any lapses in the CDC’s response to Ebola can be blamed on a lack of leadership, which can be blamed on the Senate’s failure to confirm Murthy, which can be blamed on the NRA.

Not one to ever back down from a good argument, the NRA called the charges against them “outlandish,” and went on to say that “gun control supporters will use any human tragedy to advance their anti-gun and anti-NRA agenda, no matter how ridiculous and desperate it reveals them to be.”  So what Philip Cook and Kristin Goss call The Gun Debate once again becomes the gun argument with both sides appealing to emotions and fears rather than evidence-based information, aka, facts.  The fact is that there’s no connection between an airport security guard who didn’t check a boarding pass and the absence of a Surgeon General in Washington, DC.  There‘s also no connection between Vivek’s views on gun violence and whether Americans need to protect themselves from crime, terrorists or anything else with guns.

      Vivek Murthy, M.D.

Vivek Murthy, M.D.

Speaking about terrorism, yesterday I received an email from a company marketing a product which appears to be a “must have” accessory for my AR-15.  It’s a handy little gadget called a Field Survivor Tool that stores in the rifle handgrip and allows me to adjust my sights, tighten the rails, fix the ejector, clean the bore and gas key, all for only $79.95.  And what’s really important about this little gizmo is that, according to the manufacturer, it’s “the one tool necessary for every AR to keep you safe in COMBAT or in play at the range.”  Combat?  I bought an AR so that I could go into combat?  I was drafted in 1968.  That’s when I would have gone into combat.

On the other hand, maybe there’s a new definition of combat that, like many millennial cultural expressions, has passed me by.  Take a look at the website of the Michigan Militia, some of whose members were interviewed by Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine and I quote from their Home page: “We are on yellow alert, which means a situation is probable. This is due to threats from ISIS and a completely unsecure border.  There are reports that some form of attack is imminent on the Southwestern border.  Check your gas tanks and water containers.”  What are they planning to do?  Drive from Michigan to the Rio Grande to protect the homeland?

But you don’t need to cross the United States to get into combat.  It’s a situation that could flare up at any point during the day.  Here’s some advice from Ted Nugent, who avoided military service but knows a good combat situation when  he sees one: “Those who carry guns had better gun & ammo up no matter where you go, carrying at least 10 spare mags or 10 spare speedloaders because the allahpukes are confident they will once again methodically slaughter walking cowering whining cryin helpless sitting ducks capable of zero resistance.”  Gun and ammo up and don’t forget the handy Field Survivor Tool for just $79.95.

Want a brilliant satire on current gun culture?  Take a look at this video produced by a kid from Texas named Ike Stephens.  He’s a gun guy for sure, but he knows a good marketing pitch when he sees one.  And with all due respect to advocates for gun control like States United, what they seem to miss is there are lots of grownups out there who really wish they were still kids but can pretend to be soldier-boy using real guns.  How do you connect concerns about gun violence to those kinds of folks?  Because if Ebola did start ravaging the United States, I guarantee it would re-start the demand for AR-15s.


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