Guns aren’t necessarily related to public health. They’re inanimate objects. But bullet holes in people who have been shot by people with guns are very much a health concern.
And considering that more than 100,000 people in the United States are injured or killed by firearms in an average year, according to the National Institutes of Health, gun violence is a problem with which many health professionals are too intimately acquainted.
That’s why it was so galling for the National Rifle Association to tweet out criticism of medical research on gun violence earlier this month, saying “someone should tell self-important, anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.”
Doctors responded with graphic, bloody photos demonstrating the extent to which shootings are very much “their lane.”
In a particularly tragic twist of fate, a gunman killed a doctor, a pharmacy resident and a police officer at a Chicago hospital less than two weeks after the Twitter spat.
But what so upset the NRA? The paper in question, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine in October, lists suggestions for reducing firearm-related injuries and deaths based on multiple studies conducted over more than 20 years.
They’re mostly commonsense proposals that tend to have wide popular support, like pushing for adequate background checks before firearms purchases or improving access to mental health care.
“The medical profession has a special responsibility to speak out on prevention of firearm-related injuries and deaths, just as physicians have spoken out on other public health issues,” the Annals of Internal Medicine report said.
In the not-so-distant past, the NRA, founded after the Civil War to help teach marksmanship, actually supported gun control legislation and advocated for gun safety. Today, its leaders tend to vehemently oppose even modes gun reform gun laws.
That’s a shame, since smart gun reforms could help keep everyone safer — including and perhaps especially gun owners.
The NRA does, however, make one good point in its criticism of gun research. In a blog post linked to the “stay in their lane” tweet, the author points out that the public health suggestions in question are based on “‘studies’ that wouldn’t qualify as ‘evidence’ in any other debate.”
Indeed, several of the studies referenced in the paper are based on limited data from small sample groups. But the NRA didn’t mention why that might be the case.
Gun-related research has never been banned in the United States. But a series of measures — including most notably the 1996 Dickey Amendment, which prevented the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using federal funds to “promote gun control” — have had a chilling effect. And funding can be hard to obtain, given the political volatility of such studies.
That needs to change, and the NRA ought to be leading the charge rather than taking cheap shots at medical professionals.
It’s difficult to deny that the country faces a serious gun violence problem. And if we’re going to do anything about it, we ought to take the steps that are most likely to be effective based on solid scientific evidence.
As Dr. Annie Lintzenich Andrews, a pediatrician at the Medical University of South Carolina, recently explained to The Post and Courier’s Jerrel Floyd, doctors aren’t pro- or anti-gun. They’re pro-health.
“That’s how we naturally fit into this discussion,” she said.
And given their front-line experience with gun violence, medical professionals certainly merit a voice in the conversation.