Recently the medical news service Medscape published a video editorial about gun safety by Art Caplan, who runs the Division of Ethics at NYU’s Langone School of Medicine. The editorial content was hardly unique or different from similar statements that have been made by virtually every major medical society, namely, that the existence of several hundred million guns constitutes a health risk that cannot simply be ignored because of a 2nd-Amendment right to own a gun.
Caplan’s editorial has just been challenged on Medscape by Dr. Gregory Hood, an internist from Kentucky, who’s a rising star in the medical establishment, having just been named Governor of the Kentucky Chapter of the American College of Physicians. Incidentally, the ACP stated that “physicians need to be able to have frank discussions with their patients and parents of patients about firearm safety issues and risks to help them safeguard their families from accidents,” in a letter sent to the U.S. Senate during the debate over a new gun law following Sandy Hook.
While there appears to be a consensus among Dr. Hood’s colleagues about medical risks from guns, he evidently doesn’t share their concern. This is particularly true given the fact that ” there will always be the inevitable threat of acts of violence and terrorism, whether by guns, fists, or other measures,” against which, according to Doctor Hood, “we must acknowledge the inherent right of law-abiding citizens to take reasonable precautions against such threats.” The issue isn’t hundreds of published, peer-reviewed articles that show a link between access to guns, safely stored or not, and medical risk. The real problem is allowing the good, law-abiding citizen the right to protect himself from terrorism with a gun.
What really seems to bother Dr. Hood is his belief, probably true, that most physicians have little first-hand knowledge about firearms and therefore risk violating best practices by counseling patients about an issue for which they cannot be considered to have much objective knowledge. But that’s not a problem because medical professionals can always turn for guidance to the real experts on gun safety, namely the NRA. According to Dr. Hood, the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program has “instructed” more than 25 million children in gun safety since 1988, and the program’s signature phrase, “STOP. Don’t Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult” shouldn’t be bandied about by well-meaning researchers like Art Caplan and various medical professionals who aren’t skilled in the ways and means of guns.
If it were the case that Dr. Hood was just a flack for the NRA I could forgive his flight into fantasy about the NRA’s commitment to gun safety and let it go at that. But Gregory Hood has an impeccable educational background, he’s obviously trusted and respected by patients and peers, his voice and opinions carry some weight inside and outside his profession. So I’m going to take his comments very seriously and reply to them in a direct and serious way.
The fact is that the NRA has absolutely no idea whether a single child has ever been “instructed” in gun safety either in school or at home. Hood’s figure of 25 million children comes from the NRA, it has never been validated by an independent source, and it is based on the number of Eddie Eagle pamphlets that the NRA claims it has mailed out over the last twenty-five years. That’s not instructing anyone in anything, and Hood should be embarrassed for pretending that this “program” does anything more than promote the NRA.
I really wish that guys like Greg Hood would stop hiding behind their cloak of professional integrity and admit, once and for all, that their primary interest is in protecting the access of their patients to guns. I have no quarrel with that position, incidentally, because if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a gun owner myself. But if we are ever going to have a serious and honest debate about whether guns are a public health risk then everyone has to come clean. At this point Dr. Hood needs to be a little more candid about the reasons for his concerns about guns.