Gun rights — Constitution needs to be amended to protect the lives of our patients

Gun rights — Constitution needs to be amended to protect the lives of our patients
© Greg Nash

There appears to be change afoot in the area of gun violence research. For example, at the federal level, the new CDC Director Robert Redfield agrees that there’s no ban on gun violence research, and on the state level, seven (so far) governors have recently created a consortium to study the problem of gun violence.

We are nurses who have a vested interested in the health of the public. Each of us has many years of experience working in practice, and in teaching public health, mental health, and women’s health. Gun violence touches on all these areas.

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We agree that there’s a need for gun violence research but we also think about the root cause. By definition, there would be no gun violence if there were no guns.

 

Whether you use the term “gun violence,” “gun control,” “gun safety,” after a mass shooting, like the one we had in the Waffle House near Nashville, not to mention the myriad other mass shootings, everyone has an opinion on the debate surrounding guns. Some people are suggesting what appears to be common sense reforms such as more background checks.

But we’re asking, “why is nothing happening? And why do gun sales increase after a mass shooting? What are the actual policy implications of this debate?” For us, as nurses, we notice that when we are discussing gun violence it is critical to note that gun ownership is a constitutional right — specifically enumerated and clear as clear can be.

Like freedom of speech and freedom of religion, Americans are entitled to ownership of a gun. But in the case of some rights, a conflict can emerge when two or more rights appear to contradict. For instance, the freedom of speech does not allow you to put people at harm by yelling, “fire,” in a crowded room. And freedom of press does not allow you to publish libel. We note that in the case of gun ownership, there is nothing intrinsically harmful to others when an American owns a gun.

Indeed, we very much recognize the well reasoned argument that, “guns don't kill people, but people using guns kill people.” Therefore, because there is no apparent conflict between gun ownership and other rights enumerated in the Constitution, we recognize that there is no reasonable way to envision a legal approach that would supercede an American's right to own a gun. But, as nurses, we also know that access to guns — coupled with uncontrolled anger – all too often results in the unfortunate outcome where the most fundamental of constitutional rights — the right to life — is lost.

To protect our patients, we as nurses are rising to an important recognition that the time has come to follow a constitutional approach to address gun violence. The reality is that the Constitution needs to be amended to protect the lives of our patients. And we, as nurses, believe that the time to act is now.

We need to recognize that the Constitution needs to be at the center of our conversations surrounding gun violence. Organizations such as The American Academy of Nursing, The American Nurse Association, The American Psychiatric Nurses Association, and the American Public Health Association, have rightly called for a ban on firearms. Moving forward these conversations need to be rooted in the context of the Constitution. Unless we can frame our argument in the context of the Constitution, then we are fighting a battle that is already lost. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work fighting for the right to life for our patients by amending the constitution.

Mona Shattell, PhD, RN, is a professor and chair of the department of community, systems, and mental health nursing in the College of Nursing at Rush University in Chicago. Ellen Olshansky, PhD, RN is a professor and chair of the Department of Nursing of the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and Professor Emerita at University of California, Irvine Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Nursing (AAN). Sarah Oerther, MSN, RN Sarah is currently an American Academy of Nursing Jonas Health Policy Scholars working with the Psychiatric/Mental Health/Substance Abuse Expert Panel and the Communications Chair of the Public Health Nurse Section of the American Public Health Association.