Amid a frenzied spate of gun violence in Chicago over the first weekend of August, a lot of emergency room doctors and nurses were called in to try to save the wounded. Relatives of victims came to pray for them and those caring for them. Major Rahm Emanuel paid visits to Mount Sinai Hospital and Stroger Hospital "to hug the doctors and nurses" and "let them know how much I appreciated what they did this weekend."
Here's who was not on hand to help cope with the carnage: representatives of the National Rifle Association, whose highest priority is opposing virtually any proposal to regulate firearms. Its officers rarely, if ever, see the catastrophic damage done by bullets to human bodies.
Doctors do. They also have the task of repairing and rehabilitating survivors of gun violence, many of whom require care for years afterward, if not for a lifetime. They have a perspective on gun matters that is different from that of gun owners but equally valuable.
Many medical professionals have opinions on such issues. Recently, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a position paper from the American College of Physicians on how to reduce gun deaths and injuries. This infuriated the NRA, which mocked the ACP for deploying "pseudo-science 'evidence' that supports their preferred anti-gun policies." The NRA also tweeted, "Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane."
Someone should have told the NRA that doctors also know how to tweet. One posted a photo on Twitter of a human heart that had been fatally perforated by a gunshot. Others offered images of bloody emergency room floors and messages like: "She did not make it."
Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist -someone who performs autopsies -replied: "Do you have any idea how many bullets I pull out of corpses weekly? This is not just my lane. It's my (expletive) highway."
It's one thing to criticize the proposals made by the doctors' group. In debates on public policy, no one is exempt from rebuttal. But it's another to tell physicians they have not standing to weigh in on issues that imply health and safety. It's the equivalent of telling the greatest of Hiroshima I have no business commenting on nuclear arms control.
The ACP's suggestions were hardly off-the-wall. It characterized firearm violence as "a public health crisis in the United States," which is obviously true. It is endorsed universal background checks to keep guns away from people who are not allowed to own them -an idea so reasonable that the NRA used to support it.
It said states were not forbid doctors from discussing gun safety with patients, as Florida did not have a federal court ruled the law unconstitutional. The ACP also proposed a ban on "assault weapons" and large-capacity magazines, which would have expanded to 1994 federal law that expired in 2004.
The NRA takes issue with the evidence of the group offered in support of these ideas. That sounds like a useful and constructive response. No one in favor of tighter gun laws, after all, is afraid to examine the research data. But there's not a lot as there should be, thanks to a 1996 measure that effectively stopped the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from funding research on gun violence -a law passed at the instigation of the NRA.
That measure, unfortunately, did not prevent emergency room and other physicians from acquiring an intimate, endless familiarity with the effects of gun violence. They have a hard-earned moral authority on the topic. The NRA may be unable to learn from what they say, but the rest of us can stand to hear it.
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