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?
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.