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Re: Doctors Against Handgun Injury
I’ve just read that the APA> has joined forces with several other organizations to form "Doctors Against Handgun Injury" which plans to lobby for further restrictions on Americans’ rights to own firearms. As a member of the APA, I wanted to say that you certainly don’t speak for me, and I’m very disappointed to see my professional organization get tangled up in this area in which it has little experience, and little authority, when we have so many other pressing needs facing the practice of psychiatry.
To treat firearms violence as a medical issue in an effort to push for further gun control is absolutely ludicrous, when all the relevant research in the field of criminology reveals a net benefit to society of gun ownership. (For an extensive list of references, I would refer you to "Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws") While I never expect to see the APA come out in favor of gun ownership (that would be too politically incorrect for our august organization), I hoped it would at least have the sense to stay out the argument.
I’m never sure how much to put in these types of letters. Given the antigun slant of the media, most people are hopelessly ignorant about the benefits of firearms ownership. And those of us who try to advocate for the other side are written off with a wave as "gun nuts" or "pawns of the NRA." A short letter is easily discounted as having no facts to back it up, while a long one is construed as the rantings of a misguided zealot. Yet there is so much misinformation out there that it’s difficult to overcome it with anything short of a major tome.
I didn’t grow up with firearms, and when I first looked at the issue, I, too, fell for the "If it saves one life … " argument, as well as all the statistics we now seen thrown around by the anti-gun media. However, as I explored the issue further, I learned that many of the antigun "studies" have serious flaws, and much more methodologically sound studies reveal a net benefit to gun ownership, both in lives saved and diminished crime rates. Guns are used to stop a crime about 2.5 million times a year in this country, and usually never even fired in this scenario. These studies reveal that for every life lost to a gun, 65 lives are saved. John Lott’s studies have convincingly shown that when concealed carry laws are passed, violent crime rates drop significantly. And in Great Britain, where handguns have been outlawed, violent crime has increased tremendously, to the point where British Bobbies are now obligated to carry firearms for the first time in their history.
And while "Doctors Against Handgun Injury" claim that they do not want to outlaw guns, their proposals do result in the federal government being notified of gun sales between individuals. Despite congressional edicts forbidding the preservation of this data, various federal agencies have been caught saving it time and time again. And any student of history has seen that gun registration is followed, sooner or later, by confiscation. (And while we could talk about Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot, the fact is that the registration/confiscation scenario has already happened in this country. It first occurred when New York City registered handguns, with promises there would be no confiscation, followed by confiscation of the guns a few years later. It happened again in California just a few years ago, where so-called "assault rifles" were first registered, and then confiscated.) As my patients tell me, it’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you.)
As physicians, we must be advocates for our patients. Embarrassingly often, we have advocated "treatments" without full knowledge of the facts (therapeutic bloodletting comes to mind). And while lack of research and scientific knowledge might be a partial excuse, that certainly isn’t the case with gun-control, where solid research has been done, but organizations like the APA ignore this research because it doesn’t fit their preconceived ideas.
Because of this, we must use all the data available, lest we advocate something harmful. That is certainly the case with firearms. While criminal or seriously mentally-ill patients certainly shouldn’t have access to a firearm, I don’t want to be part of an organization that advocates mandatory waiting periods for gun purchases, only to have my defenseless patient be attacked or killed by her estranged husband on the 3rd day of her mandatory waiting period. Studies have shown that women that resist rape with a firearm are least likely to be harmed. How do I tell my female patients that my professional organization has kept them from using the best defense possible against a rapist?
And let’s not forget that the Second Amendment is about the right of the people to defend themselves against tyrannical government. While such an out-of-control government may seem unlikely here in our relatively young country, once we surrender our rights to defend ourselves, we have also surrendered the rights of our heirs as well. If the people are disarmed, and 100 years from now the country is transformed into a dictatorship, it will have been our rash decision that left our great-great-grandchildren defenseless. As a physician, I think I need to play a role in preventing this, for the good of my patients.
And while you’re discounting the idea that our government could ever become this controlling, do you think our ancestors would ever have imagined the governmental mandates imposed by Medicare, Medicaid, the ADA, the EPA, and OSHA? Or that the government would ever compile such a vast array of data on it’s citizens? (Let’s not forget that the Social Security Number was simply an account number, it was never meant to be a personal identifier, but it’s usage in that role is now ubiquitous. The law says you are not obligated to use your SSN for anything but the Social Security program and taxes. Try not using it and see what happens. That was never envisioned by the politicians who created the Social Security program.)
I would encourage the APA to take an honest look at the data on gun ownership before committing its dwindling resources (that was the key issue in the last APA presidential election, right?) to the wrong side of this discussion. In addition to the link above, I would refer you to an article on guns and violence in America for an excellent review of the positive social aspects of gun ownership, written by physicians.
In the meantime, APA can forget about ever getting a nickel from me in PAC contributions as long as it advocates against the constitutional rights of my patients and me.
Gene R. Flick, M.D.