Should doctors have a voice in the gun control debate? What does practicing medicine have to do with gun ownership?

It turns out quite a bit. Any emergency room doctor who has worked in a busy inner city emergency department will tell you that gun violence-preventable or not-unfortunately is a frequent occurrence. And not all the gun violence comes from criminals. Law abiding gun owners can have relatives with mental disturbances, who can access guns (Sandy Hook as an example).  Law abiding gun owners can sell guns to supposedly legitimate buyers who then sell to not so legitimate buyers. Law abiding gun owners can have children, who despite safety measures can access the guns. Law abiding gun owners can like the rest of us experience mental, drug or alcohol issues which can impair judgement. And guess where these victims end up? In the emergency room of course.

But medical care involves more than just emergency care. Preventative care  saves lives! For example, if a doctor counsels a patient to stop smoking and that patient succeeds in quitting the habit, the doctor has made more of a difference in the patient’s live than say a heart surgeon who would have had to do that coronary bypass, had the patient continued smoking. Yes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Doctors can and should be able to counsel gun owners about  safe storage at home, awareness of relatives with mental health disturbances and any other issue where prevention might play a role. This does not mean that we are anti gun ownership; only that we as physicians want to prevent needless injury and death.

Evidence based medicine or medical practice arises out of sound science and has been for the past twenty years  a vital tool for physicians. We try to base our practice on treatments which have been shown to be effective, rather than on ineffective cures. A half a century ago, smoking was felt to be good for your health. There were even ads in medical journals with pictures of physicians smoking. Through years of research our views  on smoking have changed radically.

Does gun control work? What kinds of gun control are effective in preventing violence and which are not? Would fingerprint activated guns save lives? Should gun owners be required like drivers to pass a test? There are many, many unanswered questions, in which medical research can play a role. If certain measures of gun control are shown to be ineffective, they should not be enacted and vice-versa. For years all federal research on gun control was banned. This was without a doubt a very foolish move.  President Obama was correct in reinstating funds for research about effective methods of preventing gun associated violence.

Knowledge is our friend-not our enemy! Research will help guide our politicians toward sane gun control measures. These laws should be based on reason and scientific research rather than on just ingrained political beliefs.  Lives are at stake.