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Gun ownership is a civil right


Reading “Obtaining an assault rifle should be as difficult as becoming a doctor” shocked me, as it should shock every American.

Editor's Note: Welcome to Medical Economics' blog section which features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for bloggers to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Timothy Wheeler, MD, a Los Angeles-area head and neck surgeon. He is director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, a project of the Second Amendment Foundation.The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Medical Economics or UBM Medica.


Dr. WheelerReading “Obtaining an assault rifle should be as difficult as becoming a doctor” (Monya De, MD MPH, August 13, 2016) shocked me, as it should shock every American.  The title might as well have read “African-Americans should have to pass a literacy test to vote” or “Christians should be put in prison.” All three of these emotion-laden issues were settled in American law years ago.  Yet there remains in our profession a vast illiteracy regarding the uniquely American right to keep and bear arms.

[Editor’s note: Originally, De’s blog post was titled “Obtaining a gun should be as difficult as becoming a doctor.” Wheeler wrote this reply to the original title.]

The author of this blog article proposes forcing prospective gun owners through an arduous process as tough as medical training to prove themselves worthy of the “privilege” of gun ownership.  So she would surely deny the right to own a self-defense firearm to Clarence McDonald, a retired African-American maintenance engineer in Chicago menaced by gang members.  At age 76 it’s unlikely he would be able to meet such rigorous criteria.


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Happily, the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t agree and forced Chicago’s notoriously anti-civil rights political rulers to allow McDonald to legally acquire a pistol to defend himself.


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Let’s make something crystal clear.  In America, owning firearms is an enumerated constitutional right.  Claims that the Second Amendment protects only some states’ right to organize an armed militia are as outdated as the medical treatment of blood-letting.  Since the landmark 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision District of Columbia vs. Heller the individual right to keep and bear arms is no longer debatable.

Next: In 2016 there is simply no excuse for ignorance, certainly not among physicians


So how is it that highly educated professionals believe it’s acceptable to suggest banning whole categories of commonly used firearms?  Do they really believe, in spite of years of corrections in countless news stories, that 21st century rifles are machine guns?  That they are “assault weapons” identical to the battle rifles carried by our military forces?  The amazing durability of these myths suggests some people simply don’t care to know the truth, so strong is their prejudice against the civil right of gun ownership.


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In 2016, there is simply no excuse for such ignorance, certainly not among physicians.  It’s even worse when our professional societies such as the American College of Surgeons proclaim their support for banning “assault weapons, large ammunition clips, and munitions designed for military and law enforcement agencies.”  The College is only proclaiming its ignorance.

The very term “assault weapon” has no meaning to firearm experts.  It is a politically crafted buzzword, intended not to inform but to inflame.  It’s adapted from “assault rifle”, the proper term for such military select-fire rifles as the M4.  Assault rifles are equipped with a switch for either automatic (multiple rounds fired with one pull of the trigger) or semiautomatic (one round fired with one pull of the trigger) action.

Civilian versions of the M4 and its predecessors, commonly called AR-type rifles after the Armalite Company that first made them, have no select-fire switch and can only fire one round at a time (semiautomatic).  They are not uniquely evil simply because they, like many other 21st century consumer items, have a modular design with synthetic polymer and CNC-machined metal parts.  AR rifles are just the latest design of civilian rifles adapted from military technology, an American tradition that goes back at least a century.


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Yet the old phobias persist among people who should know better-medical doctors and especially the leaders of their professional societies.  The cause of knowledge over mindless fear is not helped by gun prohibition advocates such as the Violence Policy Center, which cynically approves exploiting ignorance to keep alive the lie that modern sporting rifles are machine guns:

The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons-anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun-can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons. In addition, few people can envision a practical use for these weapons.  (Violence Policy Center website).

The claim is made by De that “cavalier assault weapons laws have made Americans inherently unsafe.”  But the facts say otherwise.  Congress allowed the 1994 “assault weapon” ban to sunset in 2004 because it was widely viewed as ineffective in reducing crime.  This is not surprising, considering the FBI’s reporting that rifles of any kind are used in fewer than 3% of murders.  Violent crime has been dropping for years, and fatal firearm accidents have declined steadily for decades.  America is safer from firearm crimes and accidents than it has ever been.

Next: Time for doctors to stop going along organized medicine's war against our civil rights


The author indicts millions of good Americans because of highly publicized, but very rare mass shootings in schools and other so-called “gun-free zones.”  But is it consistent with our scientific training as physicians to draw conclusions from anecdotal reports? Or do we look at all the evidence with a dispassionate eye, the way we were taught in medical school?


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That evidence says that American gun owners are not to blame for criminal misuse of guns, even when blood-soaked headlines seem to say otherwise.  The Constitution says plain as day that we have the right to own firearms.  It is time for doctors everywhere to stop going along with organized medicine’s war against the civil rights of Americans.

Timothy Wheeler, MD, is a Los Angeles-area head and neck surgeon. He is director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, a project of the Second Amendment Foundation.

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