Sooner or later, probably sooner, the number of Americans who die in car crashes each year will be exceeded by the number of Americans who die because someone put a bullet into their brain, or into their chest, or into some other vital part of their anatomy and the most skilled trauma surgeon on call when they are rushed into the ER won’t be able to put them together again. I’m not being sarcastic when I talk about the skill of the trauma surgeon, by the way; gun injuries are much more difficult to treat than any other kind of serious trauma and the costs of gun injury to the medical system are two or three times higher than the costs of any other type of injury.
An interesting commentary on the auto trauma – gun trauma issue was recently posted on Huffington written by a pediatrician, Claire McCarthy, who practices at Boston Children’s Hospital. Dr. McCarthy makes the point that the response to injuries usually involves some kind of safety laws and rules that will limit injuries and therefore reduce risk when the particular product is being used. In this regard she cites the fact that all states have similar licensing requirements for driving, and that all states require seat belts, particularly when kids are in the car. On the other hand, she notes that licensing for gun ownership varies from state to state if it is required at all, and that when new gun laws are proposed, somehow the argument turns into a disagreement about rights, not about safety. The way she puts it, and I love this sentence: “I can’t imagine someone framing motor vehicle safety as a personal freedom issue.”
Dear Dr. McCarthy: Let me be the first one to welcome you to the world of guns. Because in the gun world, particularly the gun world as it has been created and nurtured by the NRA, gun safety has absolutely nothing to do with safety, it only has to do with rights. And your innocence in this regard (obviously intended, not real) is your comment that “we get that cars are dangerous.” Which is exactly the point. For the folks who live in the gun world, guns aren’t dangerous. In fact, the whole reason for owning a gun is that it protects those of us who inhabit the gun world from things that are really dangerous like robbers, and street thugs, and terror cells which are now, according to the NRA, actively operating in every city. What do cars protect us from? Being late to work and getting chewed out by the boss? Big deal. That’s hardly a trade-off. I’ll take the protective value of guns over cars any time.
But seriously Dr. McCarthy, your Huffington op-ed was what we would expect from someone with your background, training and experience. It was literate, informed, rational and based on evidence-driven facts. The only problem is that the folks who really need to be persuaded by your enlightened approach to the problem of gun violence don’t think that way at all. The day after Christmas a young mother was shot to death in a WalMart in Idaho. She wasn’t shot by a robber or a terrorist – she was shot by her two-year old son who reached into her pocketbook and yanked out her loaded gun. Now what in God’s name made this poor woman actually think that she needed to defend herself in a WalMart store? And we’re not talking about some semi-literate living in a trailer park in Tennessee. The victim was a college graduate who worked at the U.S. Department of Energy lab and I’ll bet she made sure to buckle her kid into that safety seat before she drove off to the store.
Public health approaches to injuries – seat belts, window gates, pool fences – have worked again and again. What we need in the case of guns is something much more fundamental. We need education and if schools can teach safe sex and safe eating, why can’t they teach safe guns?