Doctors for America’s plan to stop gun violence By Dr. Bob Larsen Dec 14, 2019

There is no cheerful way of having a discussion about gun violence.

Unfortunately, the subject does not take a break for the holidays. During the past two decades, gun deaths have increased by 20 percent in our country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost 40,000 Americans will die of gunshot wounds this year, while several times that number will survive with physical and emotional injuries that may never fully heal. The cost to our society is enormous.

Consider the resources that address our epidemic of gun violence. Law enforcement personnel include patrol officers, SWAT teams, crisis negotiators, commanding officers, sheriff’s deputies, detectives, investigators, forensics experts, bailiffs, correctional officers, parole and probation officers and, unfortunately, coroners.

It doesn’t end there. Legal resources become necessary to deal with criminal and civil matters. These include prosecutors and district attorneys, defense attorneys, paralegals, and judges. Ancillary personnel come into play as well. Bondsmen, insurance company representatives, mediators and morticians are part of the labor pool needed to address the carnage.

I and many of my colleagues lend our expertise to victims, dead or alive, and their family, co-workers and neighbors. The medical team involves emergency physicians, trauma surgeons, orthopedists, physical medicine experts, plastic surgeons, internists, pathologists and psychiatrists like me. Other necessary clinical components are paramedics, EMTs, nurses staffing the emergency room, operating room, medical/surgical units and home visits, hospital technicians and orderlies, occupational and physical therapists, prosthetists, psychologists and counselors.

The financial costs to our society are enormous just in terms of the labor needs required to respond to the frequent instances of gun violence. Meanwhile, the politics of firearm ownership divide us into adversarial camps. The lack of political will has left us with a hodgepodge of laws at the local, state and national levels that are often inconsistent and ineffective in dealing with this public health crisis.

Doctors for America proposes a new program to confront the issue of gun violence. A new government agency called the “National Bureau for Gun Safety” should be established. The NBGS would be staffed by experts in public health, medicine, law enforcement, engineering and communications. It would oversee research into behavior, safety technologies and legislative priorities to save lives at risk from gun injuries. The NBGS would work with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. A synergistic approach would be brought forth with respect to research, technology, public awareness and legislation.

In 1966, our government responded to the challenge of increasing mortality on roadways by passing the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. The National Highway Safety Bureau was created. The NHSB systematically addressed the problem through research and technology, which brought about seat belts and later airbags. Public education and legislative change were part of that process. The result was a drop in the motor vehicle death rate by two-thirds over subsequent decades. Doctors for America is calling for a similar response to gun violence as was apparent five decades ago to the problem of motor vehicle accidents and associated injuries.

The proposed agency, as currently conceived, would have shared goals with the Second Amendment Foundation and the National Rifle Association, which have a history of advocating for gun safety.

At the same time, doctors and other health professionals must lead the way in protecting the public health. This is our job, our calling and our lane. The NBGS concept can potentially change the national conversation on gun violence by placing the focus upon health. The goal should be preventing violence, injury and death as opposed to dealing with the victims when it is often too late.

Bob Larsen, M.D., is a member of Doctors for America and the National Steering Committee on Gun Violence. He lives in Santa Fe. This commentary also appeared in the “Santa Fe New Mexican” on December 14, 2019

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