It was November 2, 1981. Mike Hirsh and John Wood, surgery residents at Columbia University Medical School, were sitting in a meeting when John told Mike he was going to go across the street to a deli and get them some snacks. Ten minutes later John Woods was dead, gunned down in the street by an armed robber who had come up to him, demanded money, then shot him and ran away.
This event has remained in the forefront of Mike Hirsh’s emotional fabric in the more than thirty years that he has practiced pediatric surgery, knowing that had it not been for a random, violent event, his dearest and closest friend would have enjoyed the same positive and beneficial life. Gun violence is random, it robs someone of the life opportunities the rest of us take for granted, its impact can only be felt by the ones who knew the victim before he or she died.
And this is the reason why Mike Hirsh began working on gun buybacks and will now run a buyback in Worcester, MA for the sixteenth consecutive year. It’s not just that as a pediatric surgeon he sees the results of violence first-hand in the operating room. It’s because the buyback is his way of remembering the dear friend he lost to gun violence just because his friend stepped out of the hospital for a minute to go buy a sandwich and a drink.
But this year the buyback being run by Mike Hirsh is taking a decidedly different turn. On December 16, two days past the 5th anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook, the event in Worcester is being copied by buybacks in two other cities in Massachusetts, cities in five other New England states, a site in California and perhaps several more states coming on. In other words, for the first time there will be a national gun buyback day, and next year plans are already being made to hold buybacks on the same day in at least 12 states.
The plan is to eventually extend to all 50 states using the resources and staff of medical centers in each state whose emergency, trauma and primary care departments are only too well aware of the medical and human costs of violence caused by guns. A National Gun Buyback Day will not only get guns off the streets, but will also serve as learning opportunities for physicians and medical students to talk about gun violence with folks who turn in the guns. Now that the 11th Circuit has thrown out the crazy Florida law which criminalized doctors for talking to patients about guns, physicians can move themselves back into the middle of the gun debate which is where they belong.
National Gun Buyback Day has also allied itself with a new effort in California, Gun By Gun, whose organizers want to provide cash for buyback incentives through receiving public donations and then funneling revenues to buyback activities that might need some extra help beyond what their own community can provide. If you want to make a tax-deductible donation for the National Gun Buyback Day on December 16, you can do it here.
What binds the pro-gun movement together as a social and political force is the simple fact that most folks who consider themselves to be pro-gun also happen to own a gun. So there’s a tangible connection between what they say and what they do. And this has always been something of a problem for the gun violence prevention (GVP) community, because GVP supporters are rally around a moral absolute (‘thou shalt not kill”) rather than around defending what they like or want to do.
But an ongoing, national activity like buybacks gives the GVP community to get their hands ‘dirty,’ so to speak, which always has a way of creating more energy, more commitment, more buzz. So let’s get going and get behind the December 16 event!