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Political Malpractice

I was deeply disturbed by the headlines a couple of weeks ago about a Chicago mother who had lost four children to murder. My heart ached for that mother’s loss.

But as I was more disturbed when I realized that this tragedy has been (yet again!) exploited by the media in its relentless camgaign to demonize firearms. The headlines read GUN violence. Not gang violence, not drug trade violence, not out-of-control-crime-rate violence; no, the media calls it GUN violence.

Why is that? Why are the newspapers and electronic news outlets almost all blaming firearms in general, and “assault weapons” in particular–for the massacres at Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech?

The media’s demonization of guns as the source of the violence and death in America is, quite simply, irrational. I can demonstrate that it’s irresponsible, even outright insane. It flies in the face of reason and experience, yet it is virtually unchallenged. Why?

I am not the man to answer that question. There are a lot of smarter people than me who have done a much better job of it than I could. John Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime and Dr. Gary Kleck’s papers published in peer review journals, among many other studies, have shown that Americans use firearms millions of times annually to actually prevent violent crime. The CDC’s analysis of the results of the last “assault weapons ban” (AWB) showed that it was a tremendous waste of money and time, and did nothing to prevent crim.

Gun control mania seized the U.K. and Australia after madmen slaughtered school children in Scotland, and tourists at a seaside resort. Both countries banned and confiscated huge numbers of firearms. But today, both countries suffer rates of violent crime—including “gun crime”—much higher than they had prior to their gun bans.

But America’s politicians and journalists ignore that evidence and clamor for more gun control. This is irrational, and arguably insane.

I am a trauma physician with tens of thousands of ER experience. If I were to practice medicine as irrationally as the gun-control politicians practice politics, I would be sued into poverty, and stripped of my license. Banning guns as a treatment for violence in America would be as useless as me applying leeches and muttering occult incantations to treat a trauma patient. It’s worse than useless: it’s malpractice.

Gunshot wounds can be terrible, but they can also be trivial. To us ER docs, a gunshot wound (GSW) is a relatively straightforward thing to deal with. Other types of trauma, like motor vehicle collision (MVC) trauma are often much more difficult to assess and treat. Most of the time, I treat GSW victims quickly and effectively and the patient will not only survive, but recover completely.

GSW’s aren’t the only deliberately inflicted trauma that we treat in the ER. Guns are used in 2/3 of American murders, but the other 1/3 use edged weapons, bludgeons, bombs, fists, etc. It will surprise most laymen, but blunt trauma and stab wounds are often a much harder medical problem to tackle than GSW’s.

If we look at worldwide data we find that murder rates have no apparent relationship to gun laws. The murder rate in the USA was 4.7/100,000 in 2011 (total 14,478), but strictly gun-controlled countries like Russia (10.2/100,000) and Brazil (21.0/100,000) are much more violent.

Examination of these figures suggest that if America could somehow round up all the guns in the country, the violence would be unlikely to diminish. Criminals are at least as violent in Russia and Brazil as they are in America. They use guns less often than American criminals, but their violence is no less awful.

Some of my ER colleagues worked in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, back in the 1980’s. They were used to dealing with GSW and bomb victims on a regular basis, and they were good at it. But they dreaded the cease-fires negotiated between the government and the IRA because when guns were taken out, the violence continued with even more horrific weapons. Incidence of GSW’s approached zero. but instead of shooting people, they would beat them with clubs, or drill holes in their brains with electric drills, or cut them to ribbons with razors, or douse them with gasoline and set them on fire.

I did my trauma training in Canada, which had a much lower rate of gun violence than the USA in the early 90’s. (it’s no longer true, by the way; Canadian criminals use guns now at a rate very close to the rates here in America, despite Canada’s much “tougher” gun laws). I saw far fewer GSW’s in Canada than I’ve seen in the USA, but I saw a hundred times as many trauma cases where the weapon was a knife, a machete, a club, a pipe.

Now, I happen to have been shot (once), stabbed (twice), and suffered severe burns (3 times). I will state for the record that if I was asked to choose among those three as my method of execution, I would take a bullet over a knife or a flame in a New York minute. This may seem a macabre distinction to the average American, but as a physician who deals in trauma on a daily basis, and who is responsible for treating the agony of the injured and dying, the distinction is real.

If we completely eliminate guns in America—arguably an impossible undertaking—we will not eliminate violence. Not only will we still have violence to deal with, but the trauma and suffering that will be incurred will be horrific beyond the imaginings of John and Jane Q. Citizen. Think about South Africa, with its incredible murder rate, which is also very, very tightly gun-controlled. Death by “necklace” (having a burning, gasoline-soaked car tire draped over your neck until your head and face are charred beyond recognition while you’re still alive) is more common in South Africa than death by GSW.

Take away guns, and you don’t take away violence. You just change its style.

If professors such as John Lott and Gary Kleck have demonstrated the positive value of firearms in Americans’ self-defense against violence, and public health authorities aorund the world have shown that gun bans have no effect on criminal violence, and if the experiences of Belfast and South Africa and the Soviet Union have shown that banning guns only condemns innocent people to death and torture by countless grisly means, then why in God’s name are America’s politicians and journalists continuing to harp on THE GUN as the evil thing that must be eradicated from our society?

Here’s where the media and our elected officials are committing malpractice. As long as they can blame GUNS for the problem, they don’t have to actually work at finding a real solution to the problem of violent crime. By blaming guns, they don’t have to admit that violence is not a simple problem that can be fixed with a new law or two. It’s a complex and difficult problem, and the solutions are going to be uncomfortable for many of us to face. Demonization of guns, rather than seeking a truly workable solution, would be like me using leeches and arsenic to treat a heart attack. It’s malpractice, plain and simple.

It is manifestly obvious that it is time to address the real reasons behind violence in America. Let’s address inner city decay and unemployment, and while we’re at it, let’s call the glorification of gangs and drugs and violence in movies and video games for the poison it is to our young people.

Let’s address the deplorably underfunded mental health system in this country, so that madmen like Adam Lanza can be kept safely away from potential victims–whether by institutionalization, or by better community treatment and monitoring.

And let’s provide armed guards in our schools, as the NRA and others have called for, a measure which has far more “commonsense” behind it than the half-witted proposals touted by demagogues like Sen. Diane Feinstein. Armed guards in schools have kept Israeli schools murder-free for nearly 40 years. The fact that Feinstein, Obama and Biden have dismissed this proven effective measure tells us that they are far less interested in protecting our children than they are in protecting their own political positions.

However we as a nation choose to address the issue of violence in America, our politicians and journalists have to stop this sinister and deliberately misleading demonization of firearms. Guns are no more responsible for violence than Rosie O’Donnell’s ice-cream scoop is responsible for her obesity. The sooner we as a nation face this fact the sooner we will be able to get working on some real solutions.

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