Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the following blog post are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Baylor College of Medicine.
It’s ironic that less than 24 hours after we held the Third Annual Policy Prescriptions Symposium at Baylor College of Medicine where we discussed evidence-based solutions to the gun violence epidemic, we awoke to news of the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history.
I am an emergency physician, a public health advocate, and a gun owner – and I am disgusted that someone would slaughter innocent people like what occurred recently in Orlando.
But in my line of work I’ve encountered countless people whose lives were snuffed out by bullets. Some were suicides. Many were homicides. Most of them in their teens, twenties and thirties. Lives wasted.
I’ve seen many more who are nonfatal victims of gun violence. Some scarred. Some permanently disabled. The elderly. Children. I see the toll of violence every day and it has taught me one thing.
Our society has a problem with guns.
Yes, Americans have a constitutional right to bear arms. But isn’t a person’s life the first of the inalienable rights our founding fathers declared when exercising their independence from tyranny? How can you resolve these conflicting stances when over 33,000 times per year, someone loses their life to a gun?
Our society’s problem with guns is not one of facts, but of spin, fear and politics.
Let’s start with facts.
There are over 11,000 gun homicides, over 21,000 gun suicides, and 84,000 nonfatal injuries per year. That’s over 100,000 uses of guns to kill or maim, which cost over a quarter billion dollars every year.
Data show that over 400,000 nonfatal, violent crimes happen every year due to guns. Simple assault makes up the majority of these crimes, followed by aggravated assault, robbery, and rape.
With that in perspective, I’m not claiming that guns are either good or bad. I’m just asking the question – how can we save lives and relieve suffering?
In the 1980s, the U.S. had almost twice as many car crash deaths as firearm deaths. Now, due to improvements in car safety, gun deaths will soon eclipse automobile fatalities. We used evidence and public policy to fix that problem. It’s time for politicians to come together do the same thing for firearms.
While the atrocity in Orlando is being investigated as either terrorism or a hate crime, the problem with the majority of gun deaths tends to be from crippling depression, alcohol or arguments. Harold Pollack at the University of Chicago says that it is “higher-yield to look for ‘angry and impulsive’ rather than ‘crazy’ when assessing risk for violent behavior.”
It was reported that the Orlando shooter beat his wife. People convicted of domestic violence should not be able to have guns. Period. Current federal law does not allow spousal abusers to buy guns but does nothing about the weapons they currently have, nor does it apply to all cases of domestic violence.
While 90 percent of guns used in crime are illegally obtained, every illegal gun started as a legal gun. We need better record keeping of firearm transactions. When a gun is found at a crime scene, law enforcement should be able to track that weapon from the manufacturer, to the distributor, to the buyer, and all the way down to the criminal. Failure to keep records of private party transfers of firearms is unwise and should be illegal.
We can no longer have a system where people can purchase guns privately without a record of sale and without background checks.
To improve the background check system, we need to have permits-to-purchase. Every state requires people to register prior to exercising the right to vote. Why shouldn’t you register prior to exercising your right to bear arms? Some states, Texas among them, require photo identification prior to casting your ballot. Why shouldn’t you have to show a permit-to-purchase prior to buying a gun?
Evidence has shown that these laws reduce firearm deaths.
Regarding the Orlando massacre, Senator Chris Murphy said, “Congress has become complicit in these murders by its total, unconscionable deafening silence.”
The time has come for Congress to stop the politics and finally speak up about evidence-based solutions to this crisis.
-By Cedric Dark, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Baylor