Doctors from California’s Stanford Medical Center spearheaded a national effort this week to discuss gun-related violence as a public health crisis.
Healthcare providers assembled at hospitals across the country Monday for Stand Safe, an initiative co-founded by retired U.S. Air Force Col. Dean Winslow, Stanford’s Professor of Medicine, and Sarabeth Spitzer, a fourth-year medical student and Harvard graduate.
Presenters wore blue scrubs with the SAFE (Scrubs Addressing the Firearms Epidemic) logo and spoke about the medical realities — and difficulties — of treating gunshot wounds, both in the immediate aftermath and long-term.
“We’re looking at this from the perspective of people who care for victims of gun violence — including children — and as people who also have actually seen gun violence up close,” Winslow told Stanford News. “And we really feel that our country can do better in terms of reducing the terrible toll.”
“We need to do thorough, nationwide research to figure out what are the most effective ways to prevent these injuries,” Spitzer said. “And once we have evidence to show certain policies are effective, we should implement those policies as soon as possible.”
The group hopes awareness will better inform the public debate about gun control and reinvigorate funding for gun-related violence research.
“If this were any other public health problem, we wouldn’t stand for it,” said Dr. David Spain, Stanford’s chief trauma surgeon, in an interview with Mercury News. “But it’s such a hot button political topic that we lose the ability to talk about it.”
Spitzer told the newspaper medical students learn how to discuss other lifestyle choices with patients — including diet, sex, smoking, drugs and alcohol — but there’s no guidance regarding firearms.
“How can we answer patients’ questions?” she said. “This is critical for physicians to be able to reduce the injuries from firearms.”
Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, however, posit patients’ firearms habits are rarely any of their business, telling Guns.com in past interviews the perception of the medical community as staunchly anti-gun comes from “a political element” unrepresentative of “rank and file physicians.”
“They either don’t want anything to do with dealing with it with patients … or they themselves are gun owners,” said Dr. Robert Young, a practicing psychiatrist and executive editor for DRGO.
Young further criticized groups like the American Medical Association for likening gun-related deaths to high-profile public health crises stemming from the HIV/AIDS epidemic, noting the simple act of touching a firearm won’t cause harm in the way contracting a viral illness will. Eliminating civilian access to guns won’t eliminate suicides, either, Young said, insisting physicians should look deeper into the patients’ motivations for ending their lives rather than focusing on the chosen method.
The Centers for Disease Control reports nearly 45,000 Americans committed suicide in 2016. Approximately half of those cases died from gun-related injuries.
“Legislating morality has always been impossible in a diverse polity like the United States,” Young said. “They’ll have no more luck with this than the abortion, capital punishment or immigration battles have had in uniting American opinion about them.”