There’s No Better Time to Commit to Reducing Gun Violence

The Doctor Weighs In
5 min readMay 30, 2018

By Patricia Salber MD, MBA (@docweighsin)

As the number of school shootings continues to take a murderous toll on families across the U.S., it is time for everyone, including doctors, to make a commitment to reducing gun violence NOW.

In a remarkable opinion piece in the Annals of Internal Medicine, titled “What You Can Do to Stop Firearm Violence,” long-time gun researcher, Garen Wintemute, MD, MPH, asks doctors to make a commitment to help reduce firearm-related injuries and deaths. There is a link at the top of the article that takes you to a form where you can craft your personal commitment statement. You then have the option of making your commitment statement public, appearing as comments at the end of his article. He notes correctly that “commitments to change health-related behaviors mean more when they are made in public.”

What Dr. Wintemute is asking doctors to do is

“ask our patients about firearms, counsel them on safe firearm behaviors, and take further action when the imminent hazard is present.”

If we were talking about installing cabinet locks to keep toddlers out of cupboards where we store toxic household products, no one would argue. It is our job to help prevent injuries. If we were talking about night lights so that older people won’t trip and fall when they use the bathroom at night, no one would argue. But there are people who will argue that asking or counseling about firearms is not the job of health professionals. What? How can that be?

Firearms and health — short-term outcomes

There is an average of 96 deaths due to firearms every day in this country. A large percentage of them are due to suicide. According to the Annals’ article, almost half of these people have seen a physician in the prior month. Every one of those visits was an opportunity to ask about suicidal thoughts and risk factors for successful suicide, such as a firearm in the home.

Some of the firearm deaths occur because a child has found a gun in his home or in the home of a friend, or some other place that an inquisitive youngster can’t resist. When kids find these guns, they may pull the trigger and kill themselves or someone else…

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