I am a gun owner, raised as a hunter in rural Texas, and proficient with all types of civilian firearms.
I am a gun owner, raised as a hunter in rural Texas, and proficient with all types of civilian firearms. I own rifles, handguns, and shotguns, although I’m not an NRA member and I see firearms-particularly handguns-as a plague on our culture. We suffer roughly 32,000 gun deaths annually in the US, 60% of those being suicides and about 35% being homicides. Great disputes arise over the statistics, but the reality of gun deaths is undeniable.
In light of events in the past few years, I have considered starting a movement encouraging gun owners simply to get rid of handguns, setting an example for others. I think that if, for example, 100 physicians would relinquish our handguns as a public demonstration, we might convince others to do the same. While it’s unrealistic to expect thousands of Americans to disarm, any reduction in handgun deaths would be progress.
As a psychiatrist and physician, I have learned over the years that we are not very good at forcing people to do what they just don’t want to do. Nor are we very good at stopping people from doing what they are determined to do, either. I know that some of my patients, including well-respected and successful members of the community, carry handguns, although my best guess is that they leave them in the car when entering a building. My point is that posting a sign isn’t going to have much impact on an individual who feels strongly about the right to tote a weapon.
Further reading: You can't keep guns out of medical practices
My most vivid personal example of my concern about guns arose during my years as a full-time Veterans Administration physician. As we all know, the VA suffers all sorts of problems and many veterans seen on the mental health service are unhappy with the quality of service. Our VA had a completely porous boundary, with access from dozens of entrances on the Dallas campus.
Next: Physicians should be taking the initiative
Although policies may have changed, during my tenure I was twice assaulted by irate patients who were raging and out of control. In either of those situations, the patient could have pulled a knife or a gun. On more than one occasion in the emergency department I had to talk down a patient making threats against staff members.
Instead of posting a notice prohibiting firearms, suppose a physician posted something like this:
As a doctor, I am deeply concerned about gun violence. I am also a gun owner. If you share my concern, I invite you to talk with me about ways that we can work together to reduce the tragic number of deaths related to firearms. Please respect the rights and safety of others by not bringing firearms or other weapons into the building when you come for your visit. I believe that we can preserve our Second Amendment rights and still have a safer, saner nation where so many people are not being killed by guns. Sincerely, John M. Talmadge, M.D.
Although I am not optimistic about seeing solutions to the gun problem during my lifetime, I deeply believe that eventually Americans will embrace solutions like those adopted in Australia, where citizens have seen significant reductions in gun violence. My belief is that these solutions will not be imposed by government. Instead, as we have so often done, Americans will begin by creating these solutions at the local level. Good ideas, like good science, will win out in the long run. Our country is too advanced, and we are fundamentally too great a people, to imagine the future otherwise. Physicians should take the initiative.
John M. Talmadge, MD, practices psychiatry and addiction medicine in Dallas, Texas.
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