Trauma surgeons caution about global firearm violence

Trauma surgeons caution about global firearm violence
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It seems that in the recent weeks, gun control, safety, and regulation have been on the forefront of everyone’s mind. The lawsuit involving Texas based non-profit Defense Distributed — whether it has the right to post online blueprints for gun construction with 3D printers — has presented unique issues and concerns regarding public safety. Challenges for policymakers involve the regulation and detection of these weapons, while health care professionals, especially trauma surgeons, now worry about potential threats for their patients.
Currently, there are 35,000 deaths per year due to firearms in the United States, an average of 96 deaths per day. In fact, people in the U.S. are 25 times more likely to be killed by gun-related murders and are eight times more likely to die by firearm suicide than other developed countries.
These alarming statistics have prompted surgeons to speak up. Dr. Robert Riviello, a trauma surgeon based out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a faculty member from Harvard’s Program in Global Surgery and Social Change states, “As a trauma surgeon who serves people from rich and poor neighborhoods, in the U.S. and overseas — I take care of people from all walks of life, and engage with their families and communities after episodes of violence. It turns out, no one wants their loved ones to get shot, and no one wants their loved ones to get killed by guns. It is a no-brainer that mass producing plastic guns will lead to more needless deaths, rather than increase public safety. Let’s be thoughtful about this.”
In a recent article published in the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, authors Peetz and Haider argue that trauma surgeons have a role to play in the prevention of gun violence, the advocacy for policy change and funding for research surrounding these issues. In fact, some have called for a Surgeon General’s report to “fully characterize the complex problem of firearm injuries and violence in the United States” to promote political discussion and action for safer policy and practices.
These issues, unfortunately, extend beyond our national borders. In 2016, there were over 250,000 deaths globally attributed to firearms. The PanAmerican Trauma Society, whose members include individual surgeons and surgical societies in North, Central, and South America, has spoken out on these issues, stating “…the number of victims of gun violence continues to be unacceptably high. All deaths by firearms are preventable….we feel as our responsibility to advocate for our patients and victims, and condemn all forms of firearm violence.”
The issue of regulating 3D printed unregistered firearms is not unique to the United States. In the United Kingdom, it is illegal to make, own, or sell 3D printed guns. Singapore, which is known for having some of the harshest gun laws, has established that any un-licensed person in possession of a gun will face a fine, prison sentence, and possible caning.
The right to gun ownership has been controversial since the adoption of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in 1791. But regardless of a person’s opinion, perhaps we can all agree on certain efforts to decrease firearm violence. This starts with public education about these critical issues and how they affect the health of individuals, families, and society. Gun safety practices need to become commonplace, especially surrounding children, adolescents, and young adults, as they make up the largest proportion of affected victims.
Additionally, more research is needed about gun injury prevention and control. These investigations have essentially made little to no progress for the past 20 years since the passage of the Dickey Amendment, which was heavily promoted by the National Rifle Association. However, since March of this year, new legislation came into effect that now allows the Center of Disease Control to conduct much needed gun related research to help guide voters and policymakers. Unfortunately, while funding funding remains a debate in Washington, researchers will face many prohibitive obstacles.
Let's not wait until the next mass shooting event before we become proactive and call for change. It is clear that many trauma surgeons and other providers have come forward with concerns, but everyone has a responsibility to make our communities safer.
Jacquelyn Corley, M.D. (@JacquelynCorley) is a neurological surgery resident at Duke University Medical Center, Paul Farmer Research Fellow at Harvard’s Program for Global Surgery and Social Change (@HarvardPGSSC), and a human rights journalist focusing on health-care-related topics.
Sebastian Shu M.D. (@SebastianShu) is a graduate of Cayetano Heredia University School of Medicine in Lima, Peru, and a research associate at Harvard’s Program for Global Surgery and Social Change.