Charity Lecture Highlights Doctor’s Fight Against Gun Violence

New England physician works to mobilize medical community

We begin with breaking news tonight. Police are searching for a gunman who entered a school and opened fire…

Moviegoers gunned down while they were just trying to enjoy a Friday night out…

A man shot and killed…

Chances are, you’ve heard these introductions at the top of your local TV newscast several times. The American College of Physicians calls such pervasive gun violence “a public health crisis.” For many, it’s a political issue. But some doctors, including Megan Ranney, MD, MPH, FACEP, believe it’s actually a problem the medical community can solve.

Dr. Ranney, a founder of American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM), made her case to emergency room physicians and staff in May at the 2019 Cynthia and Ruben Gruber Lecture in Emergency Medicine in Burlington.

Since 1996, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been forbidden by Congress to spend any money on research that could be used to “advocate or promote gun control,” Dr. Ranney said, showing a slide of the congressman who was responsible for inserting that stipulation into a routine spending bill. So AFFIRM makes grants to do what the CDC cannot: underwrite research into gun violence and educate healthcare professionals and the public.

“We can create change together,” Dr. Ranney told the physicians.

Staggering statistics

As of June 18, there have been 199 mass shootings in 2019 alone, according to Mass Shooting Tracker, a website that tracks incidents in which four or more people are shot.

But “mass shootings are preventable,” according to Dr. Ranney, who stressed that she is not anti-gun. “Most gun owners around this country are tremendously safe and take gun ownership very, very seriously.”

Physicians can play a vital role in reducing gun deaths by learning how to identify people who are at risk of harming themselves and getting them the proper treatment. Since the majority of gun-related deaths are suicides, for example, doctors can be on the alert for symptoms of mental illness that could cause someone to take his or her life.

Research, education and the implementation of safety and preventative measures have eased other public health crises, Dr. Ranney told the audience, and could work for gun violence too. Car crash deaths are down by more than 50 percent since the 1970s because of education and programs that warn people about drunk driving. HIV/AIDS infections have decreased drastically since the mid-90s, when physicians started educating the public on ways to prevent transmission of the disease and the benefits of safe sex. Comparatively, the gun death rate in America has stayed steady, though Dr. Ranney says in the past few years, the amount of gun deaths has ticked up.

“Whether you think of it politically, socially, or culturally, this is an important topic I think everyone has to face,” said Cindy Gruber, who, along with her husband, sponsored the lecture.

#ThisIsOurLane

Adding fuel to the fire for Dr. Ranney and physicians around the country was a tweet by the National Rifle Association in November 2018, which read, “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane. Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control. Most upsetting, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves.”

“Who do they think takes care of these victims when they come through the doors?” Dr. Ranney asked indignantly. “This tweet came a week after the Tree of Life shooting, and then the next day was Thousand Oaks. And then, about a week later, Tamara O’Neal [a physician murdered by her former fiance] was killed. And the effect among physicians was palpable.”

Doctors around the country started responding to this tweet with the hashtag, “#ThisIsOurLane.”

“We are not anti-gun: we are anti-bullet holes in our patients,” one emergency room doctor in Oregon tweeted.

A trauma surgeon in Utah tweeted a picture of his scrubs covered in blood. “Can’t post a patient photo… so this is a selfie. This is what it looks like to #stayinmylane.”

Dr. Ranney and two of her colleagues responded by publishing an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, entitled, #ThisIsOurLane — Firearm Safety as Health Care’s Highway.

“#ThisIsOurLane calls attention to the role of physicians from many walks of medical life,” they wrote. “At the end of the day, we all want our children, families, and communities to be safe. As physicians and allied health care professionals, we have a responsibility to continue to insist that this is our highway. We’ll keep driving forward, together.”