Photo: Washington Post Photo: Matt McClane
The decades-old struggle over the role that medical professionals should play in reducing violence with a gun broke into social media last week after the Russian National Union warned doctors to "stay on their path" instead of sharing thoughts about gun safety.
Medical professionals have taken Twitter with a viral campaign – and often graphic – detailing the damage guns do to the human body, and the frequent efforts doctors must take to save the lives of those who were shot, under the #Thisisourlane hashtag.
Now, a working group of the American College of Surgeons has chimed with Wednesday's release of a new series of gun safety recommendations aimed at bridging the political gap. The recommendations, which include strong background checks, improved weapons security training, mandatory reporting requirements for people considered to be a threat to themselves or others, and the use of innovative technologies to prevent accidental disarming of weapons are equally impressive for their content.
Eighteen out of the 22 surgeons from the authors are armed enthusiasts and owners, including hunters, self-defense advocates and doctors with previous military experience.
The paper is "a brilliant application of well-established social science," said Rami Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and a lecturer at Harvard Medical School. Faust was not involved in the creation of the report: "People tend to change or moderate their position on a fixed faith when the argument comes from within and trustworthy."
"As surgeons, they know in advance the destruction that guns can deliver, and as gun owners, they understand the problems that weapons owners can not fully assess," Faust said.
The group's recommendations come at a time when the protracted disputes over the weapons have become increasingly polarized, with a continuous flood of lethal mass shooting in many places that many have long seen: in school, in church, in the synagogue, at a concert. The nation suffered a mass shooting this year, most recently on October 27, killing 11 in a synagogue in Pittsburgh and the November 7 massacre in rural music that left 12 dead in Oaxaca Oaks, California.
Many medical professionals believe that violence with violence should be treated in the same way as a car or food safety, but the NRA has long argued for blocking the research of guns as a public health problem. The Safety and Sports Group developed into a powerful lobby of firearms and encouraged Congress to pass the Dickie Amendment in 1996, effectively cutting funding for gun violence research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The NRA did not immediately respond to a response request after the report was released on Wednesday afternoon.
About two weeks ago, on October 30, the American College of Medicine published a position paper recommending "access to public health" for weapon-related violence and saying that the medical profession has "a special responsibility" to speak. The NRA responded, first with an editorial and then with the November 7 tweet, mocked the "important" doctors who ventured into the debate.
Doctors, nurses, and other members of the medical community reacted, displaying gruesome photographs of the floors of the operating rooms, swollen with blood, and accounts of battered bodies and casualties related to the violence of guns.
"It's completely on my path," said Gary Timerman, a trauma surgeon and gunman from Soaps Falls, South Dakota, who helped compile the recommendations. "These victims of trauma come to us."
James Ficke, a gynecologist, Johns Hopkins, who served for 30 years in the army and described himself as a life member of the NRA, expressed concern that the #theourlelane campaign could prevail by alienating the gun owners responsible and making the debate even controversies.
"We recognize that we have different" paths ", but we definitely need to replace and integrate," said Ficke, who was the author of the new report.
The authors stress the importance of "preserving the right to own and use firearms" and adopting the positions of the arms owners.
"This is the way we deal with bike safety," said Ronald Stewart, a trauma surgeon in San Antonio and a senior author of the paper. Access to public health and bicycle safety will mess with cyclists, he explained, because they have expertise on bicycles, understand the practicality of riding on them and are at risk.
The team's recommendations, which emerged from collective horror following the shooting of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hawk Elementary School in 2012 and renovated by the work group in the last eight months, are remarkably similar to those released two weeks before the ACP, Stuart said.
The difference, he says, is the consensus-building process that led to them, including a city hall of 250 doctors with broad views.
"It was one of the most civilian, collegial events I have ever experienced," Stuart said. "We understood then that we can build bridges, we can work together."
The process impressed experts in preventing violence.
"If we take politics from this public health issue, we can reach a consensus," says Megan Rani, an emergency doctor in Rhode Island, and director of research at the American Foundation for the Reduction of Fire Victims in Medicine.
Although the discussions that led to the recommendations were sometimes correct, Timerman said, because scientists who believe in evidence-based medicine all surgeons agreed on the fundamental importance of the study.
"We are not afraid to let the truth speak for itself," Timerman said.