Johns Hopkins surgeon and other physicians tell U.S. lawmakers stories of harrowing gun violence

WASHINGTON -- A Johns Hopkins Hospital surgeon joined other doctors Thursday on Capitol Hill in recounting stories of the effects of gun violence, part of an effort to compel congressional action after a National Rifle Association assertion that doctors should “stay in their lane” on the topic.

The doctors’ news conference in a House office building followed the NRA’s tweet Nov. 7 on the issue.

In an ensuing uproar in the medical community, Dr. Joseph Sakran of Hopkins launched a Twitter campaign called @ThisIsOurLane.

On Thursday, Sakran and other physicians sought to make the case to lawmakers — through their harrowing experiences — that gun violence is directly linked to health.

One physician told of the haunting wails of mothers being told their sons or daughters had succumbed to gun violence. Another told of a 2-year-old fatally shot in his home by a family member who mistook him for an intruder. Sakran recounted being shot in the throat by an errant bullet in 1994 after a football game.

“Like some of you in here, I grew up just a stone’s throw outside of our nation’s capital. But like few of you, I also nearly died there,” he told a group that included Democratic Reps. Robin Kelly of Illinois — the event organizer — as well as Eric Swalwell of California and Frank Pallone of New Jersey.

At the age of 17, I was nearly killed after being shot in the throat with a .38-caliber bullet,” Sakran said. “As a trauma surgeon today, there is only one thing that could be more gratifying than giving someone else that same second chance, and that’s preventing the injury from ever happening in the first place.”

Baltimore had the worst homicide rate among the nation’s 50 largest cities last year and the second-highest violent crime rate overall, according to data from the FBI.

The Democratic lawmakers listening to the stories have variously proposed a number of gun safety measures — including universal background checks — that have failed in the House.

The NRA did not respond to requests for comment.

Swalwell said the climate, at least in the House, will be different next year, because voters elected a Democratic majority in the Nov. 6 election.

“I think the descriptions that have been made here by the physicians is a feeling of being powerless,” Swalwell said.

“The voters have spoken — this issue was on the ballot just a couple weeks ago,” he said. “We’re not powerless anymore. We have an opportunity to pass background checks. We have an opportunity to finally study gun violence in America to see what we can do — whether it’s on mental health or community intervention.”

Gun law reform advocates have long complained that Congress does not fund research that treats gun violence as a public health issue.

Pallone said he often speaks to physicians in his district about that concern.

“Research is not prevented on the state level, so there is some research being done,” Pallone said. “But they point out that without a major infusion of funds at the federal level, they’ll never be able to actually do the research that is necessary. We need to do research and we need to fund research on gun violence.”

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