There’s a group of physicians in Michigan who have formed an organization called Physicians for Prevention of Gun Violence (PPGV) which is sponsoring one of the September 25th Concert Across America To End Gun Violence events. Their concert, which will take place in Ann Arbor at the Genesis Center, and will feature performances by the chamber orchestra conducted by Kevin Fitzgerald, as well as solo piano works performed by a member (Emeritus) of the Ann Arbor music faculty, Louis Nagel.
Events like the Ann Arbor concert are going to take place all over the country, and while the New York and California concerts are going to get the spotlight (how could they not get the spotlight with the artists who are appearing at both venues?) we shouldn’t overlook the value and importance of the more local efforts like the Ann Arbor gig. And the reason we shouldn’t ignore such events is because to really build a national movement for anything, you need to get folks involved in the communities where they work and where they live. After all, it’s one thing to walk into a large, public event where you might or might not know anyone at all. It’s quite another to walk into a room and see other people whom you really know, then all of a sudden the event in that room takes on a special and personal meaning for you.
In the interests of full disclosure (I love that phrase) I happen to know several of the physicians who are active in the PPGV group. The organization got started after the Tucson shooting (of Gabby Giffords) in 2011 and now counts more than 200 members, including clinicians, residents and medical students in all the relevant medical disciplines. In 2014 the group was featured in a journal article published by the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians after the statewide group adopted resolutions on gun violence prevention.
Back in 2014, Detroit’s Police Chief James Craig became a poster-boy for the NRA when he called for law-abiding Detroit residents to arm themselves against crime. Of course this stance also made Craig an immediate resource for the Trump campaign, and he was, along with Dr. Ben Carson (remember him?) conspicuously present during Trump’s recent drop-in tour of the Motor City. The only problem, of course, is that armed citizens or not, Detroit still has one of the highest murder rates in the United States, and the last time I checked, Detroit is still located in Michigan, which means that the members of the PPGV group have plenty of work to do.
But along with work comes opportunity and when I think about what PPGV has accomplished in such a short time, it reminds me of another group of physicians which started advocating over a public health issue back in 1961. The group came together in someone’s apartment and formed Physicians for Social Responsibility to advocate about the health risks posed by nuclear testing and, in particular, the spread of Strontium-90 in the water, soil and air. PSR limped along for a number of years and then, in 1979, decided to give it one last try. The same week that they sent out what they thought might be their last fundraising appeal, the nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island blew. Guess what? In 1985 this group, known now as the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, shared the Nobel Peace Prize.
Am I saying that gun violence is as serious a risk to health as nuclear war? Well, if you consider that over the last five years alone more than half a million Americans have been killed or seriously injured because of guns is a number that probably surpasses what would be the human toll from the detonation of a good-sized nuclear bomb. So I applaud the work of Physicians for Prevention of Gun Violence, I know their September 25th concert will be a great success, and I only hope they and groups like them will continue to forge ahead.