Some Physicians Talk About Their Experiences With Gun Violence Victims.

There’s a cute little website out there called Dr. Oz – The Good Life, which purports to be one of those ‘wellness’ websites that gives you information on diet, exercise, skin care, you know what I mean.  Dr. Oz is actually a television personality named Dr. Mehmet Oz whose medical advice over the years has been attacked by other physicians as ‘pseudoscience’ and ‘quackery,’ even though he still retains his position as Director of Integrative Medicine at Columbia University. His online CV he lists his highest honor as his Emmy Award for Best Daytime Television Host, which is what ‘integrative medicine’ is really all about.

md-counsel              The website is really a vehicle for health and wellness advertising, the products you can purchase to help you lose weight, gain control over your thinning hairline, etc., etc., etc., just abound. But the website also contains an occasional article of some medical value, with a current article entitled, “When Bullets Meet Bodies: What Doctors Think About Gun Violence” written by a faculty member from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The article is a series of interviews with professionals who have treated gunshot victims, including a several surgeons, an occupational therapist, a pediatrician and an EMT chief.

As you can imagine, these interviews reflect the reality of gun violence at the level at which it really occurs, namely, in the medical facilities that have to deal with the people who get shot and whose lives often hang in the balance based on whether the attending medical staff gets it done timely and gets it done right. Gunshot wounds are probably the worst kind of injury because a bullet can and will travel through the human body damaging multiple organs at the same time. So a bullet that enters someone’s torso might go through a lung, sever an artery, smash a rib or two – what do you work on first? Most of the stories collected by the writer, Jennifer Wolff, are first-hand accounts of the difficulties and dangers involved in patching someone up.

Every physician interviewed for this story advocated stricter controls over firearms and clinical interventions by physicians to reduce gun violence before it occurs except one. And the one doctor who felt that his colleagues should basically stay outside of the gun debate is a psychiatrist named Robert Young, who happens to be affiliated with something called Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, which claims a national membership of physicians except they have never given out an actual number of the size of their organization, even though they have managed over the past twenty-five years to inject their stupid views into all kinds of public discussions about doctors and guns.

I say ‘stupid’ because not only do their uninformed, pro-gun views clash directly with the stated positions on gun violence published by every, professional medical society in the land, but when they get up and say something in public they just as often get it wrong. In the OZ interview, Young states that the Florida gag law which criminalizes doctors who talk to patients about guns is “under appeal and not yet enforced.” Well I guess Dr. Young hasn’t yet heard about the decision of the 11th Federal Circuit on February 17 which overturned the Florida gag law for good. But the even more remarkably stupid thing he says is that if he has a suicidal patient, “I make a plan with whoever else lives in their house to keep them from potentially lethal things. That includes firearms, but it also includes knives.” Is he joking? Is he comparing the lethality of a gun to the lethality of a knife?

I suspect that the reason Jennifer Wolff gave Dr. Young some space is that she didn’t want to be accused of only hearing from one side. But with all due respect to the canons of journalistic practice there is only one side with respect to the medical risk caused by guns. And except for a few brainless physicians like Dr. Young, this is something which, thankfully, the medical community fully understands.

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Can Gun Owners And Non-Gun Owners Agree? I’m Not So Sure.

Last week I wrote a column about a report on a Fox affiliate station in York, PA that presented a very balanced view on whether physicians should talk to patients about guns. What was interesting was the fact that a television station covering what is a very politically-conservative, gun-rich region would actually run a story which seemed, on balance, to promote the idea that doctors should be able to inquire guns.  Given the lengths to which the NRA has gone to muzzle doctors who want to discuss this issue with patients, I found it surprising that a somewhat “pro-doc” slant would come from Fox News.

docs versus glocks                I wasn’t the only one who found it interesting because this post made it all over the web and was featured on sites owned by gun partisans on the Right and anti-gun partisans on the Left.  I thought it would be instructive to look at these sites in a little more detail to get a flavor for how the average person, gun owner and non-gun owner, lined up on what has been a highly-contentious issue.  And what I discovered didn’t leave me with any warm and fuzzies in terms of the degree to which either side in the gun debate understands what the other side is talking about.

Let’s look at the pro-gun side first, in this case a blog published by MN (for Minnesota) Gun Talk.  The conversation began with a link to the story out of York, PA as replayed on Yahoo News.  This was followed by 40 posts, but as is usual in such blogs, the majority written by just a couple of folks. And it goes without saying that even though the original story quoted two doctors as stating that they were asking about guns solely in terms of preventing gun accidents, none of the gun owners on this blog took the doctors at their word.  For that matter it’s not clear that any of the bloggers even bothered to watch the clip from Yahoo News.  For the most part they were too busy throwing the usual dumb comments and dumber profanity back and forth between themselves.

The other side of the gun fence was a website devoted to baby care, birthing and a host of other very compassionate issues which ran a story about Florida’s gag law in which the blogger was critical of any attempt to prevent physicians from talking to patients about guns. The story was followed by a reader’s poll in which readers who felt that pediatricians had the right to inquire about guns outnumbered readers who were against such inquiries by a ratio of six to one. Of the 185 comments that followed the story, they were overwhelmingly posted by readers who felt that their pediatrician was behaving properly in asking about guns, and a significant number of bloggers on this site admitted that they didn’t and wouldn’t own guns at all.

I find these websites much more revealing about the average person’s thoughts on gun issues than the pronouncements that come down from the formal, advocacy groups on both sides.  Not that the views of the NRA are contrary to what their membership believes, nor would Brady or Everytown take a policy position that wouldn’t be favored by the supporters of those groups.  But what you get from these blogs and websites is what individuals at the street-level are thinking, not what a professional media or communications staff feels will promote their agenda and point of view.

There’s only one little problem.  I read all 40 posts on the pro-gun blog and nearly all of the 185 posts on the baby center site and I must say that the tone and content of the two threads were about as far away from each other as what I get when I look at content from Brady or the NRA.  People who like guns are willing to accept and/or deny certain risks, and people who don’t like guns won’t accept those risks.  And you’re not going to close this gap by pretending that there’s a way to make guns “safe.” That’s not what guns are designed to do.

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