The National Rifle Association’s arrogance struck a nerve last week when it scolded doctors for daring to state the obvious: that gun violence in America is a public health crisis. Apparently physicians weren’t supposed to notice that the gunshot wounds they try desperately to heal — too often failing — are in fact caused by guns.
"Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane," the NRA tweeted last Thursday. "Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control. Most upsetting, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves."
We don't know what “lane,” exactly, the NRA should stay in — recklessness? cynicism? — but there can be little doubt that doctors should have a voice in the gun debate. They are the ones who work to save the lives of victims whose innards have been torn apart by bullets. When their efforts fail, they face the distressing task of telling families a loved one has died.
The senseless violence — not to mention suicides and accidental shootings — caused by guns is a part of the argument that the NRA and its supporters conveniently choose to downplay or outright ignore. Instead, they attack and bitingly insult the intelligence of anyone who points out the obvious: that gun violence is a public health issue.
This time it was a position paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine that set off the gun rights group. Ironically, the paper by the American College of Physicians, which outlines ways to prevent gun violence, called for building coalitions among people with different perspectives.
Clearly, the NRA doesn’t want to work with anyone that has views different from its own. And that means anyone who doesn’t espouse the view that not only is everybody is entitled to a gun, we should all be armed at all times. And if that means guns wind up in the hands of dangerous people? Oh well. Their Twitter message was accompanied with a photo of a contemplative doctor and the caption — “Everyone has hobbies. Some doctors’ collective hobby is opining on firearms policy.”
Doctors immediately clapped back at the NRA, and rightfully so.
The first thing they did was take their lane back.
Johns Hopkins Hospital trauma surgeon Dr. Joseph Sakran launched a Twitter campaign, which includes the account @ThisIsOurLane. Dr. Sakran was inspired to become a surgeon when as a teenager he was shot in the neck after a football game. It took a tracheotomy and six months of surgeries so that he could breathe and speak again.
Doctors posted ghastly photographs of bloody scrubs and organs wounded by gunshots to drive their point home on the Twitter account, which has picked up nearly 11,000 followers.
Baltimore is ground zero for gun violence as a public health issue, a topic Johns Hopkins researchers have taken on extensively for years. It is a topic they should continue to pursue aggressively despite the ire from the NRA.
More than 200 people have died from gunshot wounds in Baltimore already this year. And that doesn’t count hundreds of others who survived their injuries. University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Center alone has treated 440 gunshot wound patients since January. Gun violence has destroyed communities and generations of families.
The medical community should continue their advocacy until the killings stop.
The NRA’s animosity toward doctors and the medical community is not a new one. It has been more than two decades since a strong gun lobby helped lead to a law that prevents the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using money to “advocate or promote gun control.” The law has served to severely restrict research on the public health impact of gun violence. Part of what the American College of Physicians advocated for in its paper was more funding for the federal health agency to study the issue.
The medical community has continued to effectively stand up to the gun lobby, which is probably why the NRA got so testy. Thankfully, their latest response may have backfired and instead made the medical community band together stronger.
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