There Is A Way To Keep Guns Out Of The Wrong Hands. Let Doctors Decide.

NRA Headquarters, Fairfax Virginia USA

NRA Headquarters, Fairfax Virginia USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we approach the Newtown anniversary everyone’s going to weigh in with their thoughts about gun control, so here’s mine.  I believe the NRA is more right than wrong in questioning the motives of many of the proponents of more gun control.  They are correct when they say that just about all gun owners are responsible, law-abiding citizens who don’t need to jump through yet more legal hoops in order to buy or own guns.

At the same time, the NRA should stop diluting the force of their argument and keep their nose out of places where it doesn’t belong.  And one place they don’t belong is challenging the right of physicians to talk to their patients about guns.  Their attempt to criminalize such efforts by physicians (‘Docs versus Glocks’) is both stupid and wrong.  And here are the reasons why.

Every day in Emergency Rooms all over the country, people wander in complaining of various degrees of mental distress.  Unless they present a “clear and present danger” to themselves or anyone else, they are free to leave and, if we follow the argument of the NRA, they can walk out into the street even if they walked into the ER with a gun.  Physicians can restrain a person in the ER who is drunk and might, if released, drive off in his car.  But unless an individual actually threatens someone with his gun, the physician who even asks the patient whether he has a gun is, according to the NRA, trampling on the guy’s 2nd Amendment rights, and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

In 2004 a woman in Indianapolis called the police and reported that her 24-year old son was exhibiting dangerous signs of mental distress.  The cops found the kid in possession of multiple guns and ammunition, briefly took the guns away but within several days let the young man reclaim ownership of his guns.  Eight months later the young man, Kenneth Anderson, shot and killed his mother, a police officer, and then was shot and killed by the police.

I don’t know whether in the intervening period this troubled young man ever saw a physician or other medical professional even though he was clearly at risk.  But I do know that even if he had been seen by a physician, the NRA’s position would be that the doctor would not have been able to ask him about his guns.  The NRA is trying to have it both ways.  On the one hand, they say that the mental health system needs to be ‘fixed.’  On the other hand, they don’t want physicians to be able to close a gap in mental health treatment simply through asking appropriate questions and using common sense.

If you walk into a doctor’s office and you’re obese, the physician would be violating the Hippocratic Oath if he or she didn’t tell you to lose some weight. Not everyone who weighs too much is going to live a shortened life, but the physician isn’t violating your privacy by telling you that your weight is putting you at risk.  If someone walks into an ER or a doctor’s office and exhibits symptoms of emotional distress, anyone who would deny that gun ownership by that individual constitutes a risk, has no business engaging in a rational discussion or debate about guns.

The 2nd Amendment gives us the right to arm and protect ourselves from the bad guys in our midst.  It doesn’t give anyone the right to prevent physicians from finding out whether someone’s behavior might turn them into a bad guy whether they meant to be bad or not.


Here He Comes Again: Tim Wheeler Continues His Crackpot Attacks On Physicians

NRA Headquarters, Fairfax Virginia USA

NRA Headquarters, Fairfax Virginia USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just when I thought we heard the last of him, Tim Wheeler’s back in town with his patented combination of half-truths, distortions and outright lies about physicians and guns.  In case you haven’t heard of him, Wheeler is the head of something called Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership which he founded back in the 90’s to help the NRA convince Congress to cut gun research funding for the CDC.  Wheeler, who claims to be a physician, has never published a scholarly article of any kind, nor for that matter has he ever engaged in any medical or scientific research about guns or anything else. But because he can put the initials MD after his name, the NRA trots him out every time gun research appears in a medical journal.

Wheeler’s loony version of reality was in full evidence this week following the publication of an article in the journal Pediatrics, which is a favorite target for the ravings of delusionals like Wheeler who pander for the NRA.  The article, co-authored by a dozen medical specialists who work in emergency and trauma departments in the Far West, compared treatment outcomes and costs for children at emergency facilities based on the type of injury suffered that led to admission.

In addition to gunshots, the study covered cuts, blunt object injuries, falls and vehicle accidents. Not surprisingly, gun shots comprised the smallest number of all injury categories.  But gunshot injuries also resulted in the highest cost per admission, more than $28,000 per patient (the next highest, vehicle accidents, was $15,000,) and the highest incidence of in-hospital mortality.  In other words, when a kid gets hit with a bullet, he or she will require a degree of medical care that is unlike any level of care required for any other type of serious injury.

In brief, that’s what the article says.  That’s all it says. Oops, there are some recommendations which I’ll quote: “Public health, injury prevention and health policy solutions are needed to reduce gunshot in juries in children.”  I’m quoting the recommendations so that you’ll understand the irresponsibility of Wheeler who reacted to this study in an appearance on NRA’s Cam Edward’s talk show by condemning the “anti-gun hype” of this and other medical research on guns.  And just to make sure that his argument remained at the absolutely lowest intellectual level, he didn’t miss the opportunity to remind everyone that since the majority of the gunshot patients were minority males ages 15 to 19, there’s no doubt that they were gang members whose criminal behavior brought the injury on themselves.

The truth is, that with the exception of quacks like Wheeler, the NRA is afraid of physicians. They fear physicians because they know that most Americans probably trust their physician more than they trust anyone else.  They rely on their doctors, they confess their deepest fears and secrets to their doctors, and when a parent wakes up in the middle of the night and hears that child in the next room having difficulty breathing, he’s not going to grab the phone and call the NRA.  He’s going to call the doctor.

The NRA has spent the last twenty years trying to convince us that we will all be safer if we all have a gun.  Most physicians disagree.  I’m not sure that the research has yet been conducted or published that definitively proves one or the other point of view.  But I do know that the shrill and stupid comments by people like Timothy Wheeler only serve to debase the efforts of honest people to search for a reasonable point of view.