WE NEVER thought we would see the National Rifle Association help advance the discussion of gun violence as a public-health crisis. But that is exactly what the organization unwittingly did when it essentially told doctors they had no business talking about guns and should just shut up. What followed instead was an indignant outpouring of heart-rending stories from professionals who see close up the horror and damage caused by guns.
“Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane” was the tweet from the NRA on Nov. 7 in response to a position paper from the American College of Physicians recommending evidence-based policies to reduce gun-related injuries and deaths. If the NRA wanted attention, the tweet was a success. Doctors and other medical professionals began posting under the hashtags #thisisourlane and #thisismylane, which soon went viral. They told of desperate and too-often fruitless efforts to save people who had been shot, the lifelong struggles of victims wounded by guns and the pain of mothers and fathers informed of their child’s death.
“Do you have any idea how many bullets I pull out of corpses weekly,” wrote a San Francisco-based forensic pathologist. “This isn’t just my lane. It’s my f---ing highway.” “Who do you think removes bullets from spines and repairs (or tries to) livers blasted by an AR-15? The tooth fairy? This literally is medicine’s lane,” wrote another doctor. Some doctors said they own guns but still understand the need to treat gun violence as a serious public-health issue. Indeed, as one doctor noted, if a virus killed the way guns do — randomly, unpredictably, 20 children in five minutes in one place, 58 people in 15 minutes somewhere else — people would be screaming for action from the medical and scientific community.
Just hours after the NRA’s tweet, 12 people were murdered at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif. There have been more than 300 mass shootings this year, and fear of them has reshaped our way of life. Churches are no longer sanctuaries, and active-shooter training is routine for kindergartners. Every day in the United States, almost 100 people die and more than 200 others are injured in gun-related violence.
Not all deaths or injuries can be prevented, but there are policies that could reduce the carnage. Fund national research, ban assault weapons, keep guns out of the hands of domestic-violence offenders, require safe storage of firearms: Those are among the recommendations of the American College of Physicians in the recently published paper that provoked the NRA. “The ACP has pressed for the adoption of policies to reduce the number of deaths and injuries related to firearms for more than 20 years and is disheartened by the lack of action to protect the American public,” wrote the authors of the paper. It’s time to follow doctors’ orders.