Every year in the United States, more than 33,000 men, women, and children die from the violent mechanism of action of a firearm. Twice as many are injured, many severely and permanently, because of gun violence. No other nation on Earth comes close to the carnage which many Americans feel is the price we pay for upholding a rigid (some say outdated) view of the Second Amendment, which states simply:
“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.”
Surely, Jefferson et al recognized the inherent contradiction of the wording used; in order to have a “well regulated militia [to secure] a free state,” someone’s right to bear arms will eventually be infringed upon. It is the responsibility of the United States Congress to regulate the arms that people keep and bear. After last month’s shooting massacre in Orlando, Florida, Congress had the chance to consider and debate current and proposed new regulations. That policymakers have failed to do so after each horror show, including this latest one, prompted this call to action from the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics:
“Today, members of the United States Senate failed to pass common-sense amendments that would have helped protect children from gun violence by expanding background checks on all firearm purchases and making it more difficult for suspected terrorists to buy guns. It is especially discouraging that in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in our nation’s history, our elected officials could not come together to pass basic bipartisan proposals to make our country safer. It is even more disheartening when compared against past failures of our elected leaders to act, but pediatricians understand all too well the toll gun violence takes on a community, and we will not give up our push for meaningful action.
“We have lost far too many young lives to gun violence. Today, the Senate missed a critical opportunity to lay a foundation for strong federal policies to keep children safe, but pediatricians will not give up our fight against this preventable public health crisis. We will keep advocating for our nation’s leaders—both those running for office and those who are currently serving—to allow science to prevail over politics so that we can work together to make our country safer.”
Of course, it’s difficult “to allow science to prevail over politics” when politicians, beginning in 1996 with the “Dickey Amendment,” have effectively banned scientific research on the subject of gun violence in America. Physicians working to prevent gun violence before it happens — and treat its victims when it does — have had enough:
In a joint statement, leaders from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American College of Physicians (ACP), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) said Sunday’s attacks “highlight gun violence as a grim and increasing public health epidemic that kills approximately 91 Americans every day.”
Altogether, the five organizations represent approximately 426,000 physicians.
“Our organizations and many others have called on Congress to provide the CDC with funding for research into the causes and prevention of gun violence,” read the joint statement.
The American Medical Association — the largest association of physicians in the U.S. — also weighed in on this public health crisis:
“Even as America faces a crisis unrivaled in any other developed country, the Congress prohibits the CDC from conducting the very research that would help us understand the problems associated with gun violence and determine how to reduce the high rate of firearm-related deaths and injuries. An epidemiological analysis of gun violence is vital so physicians and other health providers, law enforcement and society at large may be able to prevent injury, death and other harms to society resulting from firearms.”
In the same statement, the AMA reiterated its long-standing support for legislation mandating a waiting period before the purchase of any firearm in the United States, and required background checks for all handgun purchases.
Last week, the authors of an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine attempted to speak for the entire medical community:
Gun violence in the United States is a complicated problem. In fact, it is four complicated problems: mass shootings, suicides that account for two thirds of gun deaths in the United States, homicides and gun-related injuries like those tearing apart the city of Chicago, and accidental shootings that occur when, for instance, toddlers find a parent’s gun and kill themselves, a sibling, or a parent. Any group — on any part of the political spectrum — promising an easy solution and speaking in absolutes does not grasp the reality. It makes sense to be especially wary of groups that are profiting most from the continued carnage by somehow generating record gun sales in the wake of each of these mass shootings.
The devastation wrought by firearms is not inevitable, and to consider this scale of death the price of freedom is a perversion of the notion of liberty. Although these four types of gun violence have varied root causes and solutions, easy access to guns is a unifying thread.
As the song goes: “One way or another/This darkness got to give.”
More PediaBlog on firearm safety and the adverse health effects resulting from gun violence here.