Our friends at The Trace emailed an article yesterday about the decision by the American Medical Association to debate and possibly adopt some gun-control measures when the organization gets together for tor their annual meeting in June. According to the AMA President, David O. Barbe, a family physician out of Missouri, the grand poo bah of all grand medical organization poo bahs will debate a nearly a dozen proposals to reduce gun violence and then put its “considerable lobbying clout behind legislation heading into November’s mid-term elections.”
The AMA is already on record backing such ‘commonsense’ strategies as comprehensive background checks, handgun licensing and waiting periods and ‘mandated penalties’ for gun crimes, whatever ‘mandated’ means. According to Doctor Barbie, this year’s grab-bag of proposals includes banning bump stocks, strengthening the background check system, banning assault rifles and high-cap magazines, and increasing the legal age for gun purchases from 18 to 21. All of these ideas and others stem from a basic notion, says Dr. Barbie, that “gun violence in America today is a public health crisis, one that requires a comprehensive and far-reaching solution.”
I am going to be rather blunt and somewhat descriptive by saying that I think Dr. Barbie and his AMA colleagues are once again reducing the issue of gun violence to just another talking-point which, if debated and adopted at the annual meeting, will accomplish absolutely nothing at all. In other words, it’s a load of crap. God knows we have enough decent, dedicated and devoted gun-control advocates and organizations promoting these same issues all the time. Why should the medical profession, which represents the most objective and science-based approach to how their responsibilities and practices are defined, just get on line behind everyone else who wants to do something about the 125,000 deaths and injuries suffered each year because of guns? What the AMA should be doing is insisting that the issue of gun violence be taken seriously within the practice of medicine itself.
Every medical school curriculum contains teaching modules about violence – how to define it, how to spot it, how to counsel about it and who needs to be contacted if the patient is at immediate risk. Guess what? You can search all these treatment protocols and you won’t see the word ‘gun’ or the term ‘gun violence’ even once. And gun violence isn’t the same thing as picking up a baseball bat and whacking your younger bother over the head. It’s not the same thing as getting into a fight. It’s a random and highly lethal type of behavior that creates a level of injury which at best requires a significant outlay of medical resources and at worst leaves the victim dead.
What do we get from the medical profession these days when it comes to discussions about what to tell a patient who says that he or she has access to a gun? We get this nonsensical and ill-advised bromide about safe storage because, after all, we need to ‘understand’ and ‘appreciate’ the culture of patients who believe they are safe if they own a gun.
The studies which show that guns are a risk to safety and health do not distinguish between stored and unstored guns. And as far as I’m concerned, a physician who does not advise patients to get rid of their guns, pari passu, is teetering on the brink of violating the Hippocratic Oath, which does not (read: not) make exceptions for patient ‘culture’ as regards the doctor’s responsibility to reduce harm. Doctors should join and lead the gun-violence discussion by talking about what they know, which is the issue of medical risk. And medical organizations like the AMA should be promoting one very clear message, namely, that guns are a risk to health. This means all guns, no matter how they are stored or how many background checks are required before owning a gun. I know this, and even though I’m also a doctor, I’m just a lowly Ph.D.